Doctors on global frontline warn ‘war is not yet won’ in coronavirus fight

Doctors on the global frontline have warned ‘the war is not yet won’ in the fight against coronavirus, as a backlog of other health issues threatens to coincide with a deadly second wave.

Medics working in some of the hardest-hit countries say their hospitals are at breaking point as infection rates continue to soar.

In the Philippines, tens of millions of people were forced back into lockdown last month amid fears the healthcare system would collapse if the virus was not urgently contained.

The Southeast Asian country had only just emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in June when cases began to rise five-fold, with the daily average number of infections reaching 4,000 in August.

The surge saw major hospitals fill to capacity, forcing many to turn patients away. The lockdown came after 80 medical associations called on President Rodrigo Duterte to toughen restrictions – a move that was not well received by business owners.

Dexter Galban, a doctor working in the capital Manila, told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s heart-breaking because the business community is really struggling to stay afloat and keep people employed.

‘But at the same time, the health care system is crying for help in light of the rapidly increasing number of cases of Covid-19. Some have begun expressing resentment against health workers online as a result of the decision to return to a stricter quarantine level.’

Hospitals are in danger of closing down

More than 300 small private hospitals are in danger of closing down in the Philippines due to lack of manpower, finances, and equipment to cope with the pandemic. Those that have survived have had to convert hospital rooms into temporary sleeping areas for staff due to the shutdown of public transport.



This has put a huge strain on the mental health of frontline workers who have not seen family in months and are faced with death every day.

‘Now, more than ever, we need to have the audacity to hope so that we may all keep fighting the good fight,’ said Dr Galban.

The Philippines reported its lowest number of new daily coronavirus cases in nearly eight weeks on Monday, but officials downplayed the news, warning of a prolonged battle ahead.

Manila and nearby provinces will remain in lockdown until the end of September, limiting the movement of around 13 million people.

The Philippines is far from the only country facing a precarious situation as it seeks to reopen the economy while controlling the spread of the virus.

In Brazil, which last week plunged into recession, the number of infections reached a staggering four million on Thursday.

Scientists have criticised right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the virus, even after catching it himself.

Though there are signs infections are finally slowing in the hard-hit cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, cases have soared in other regions.

Things have gone crazy

Gabriela Macedo, a trainee doctor in Joinville, southern Brazil, said after a quiet start to the outbreak in March ‘things have gone crazy’ in the past two months.

In the very beginning, people were still believing in Bolsonaro, that it was just a little flu, but they didn’t want to go to hospitals and triage centres,’ she told Metro.co.uk

‘After, people started getting sicker and sicker and dying, but they stopped going to hospitals because they were afraid of catching Covid. We were getting messages that the hospitals were empty, the number of trauma cases was 0.

‘In the middle of July, public hospitals reached full capacity and respiratory patients highly suspected of having Covid-19 were still arriving in the ER, so the city government negotiated with the private hospitals to have some of their beds.’



Brazil has the second highest death count in the world behind the US. However, India is now seeing the world’s fastest growth in cases and on Monday overtook Brazil’s infection count.

The big battle may be over, but the war is not yet won

While some countries are just coming through the peak of the first outbreak, others are starting to see signs of a second wave.

The UK government is ironing out plans to limit indoor gatherings after a dramatic rise in cases driven by young people.

Meanwhile, infectious disease experts in the US warned on Monday of a ‘cold weather surge’ in coronavirus cases, saying a second spike could be ‘weeks away’.

Global tracking data shows cases rising in countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

A brief look at statistics from around the globe

In the past week:

  • Deaths from coronavirus in the US crept towards 190,000
  • Daily infections in the UK hit their highest level since May
  • Spain became the first country in Western Europe to register 500,000 coronavirus infections
  • France set a new record after health authorities reported 8,975 new cases on Friday.
  • Iraq recorded its highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic, prompting authorities to warn hospitals may ‘lose control’ in the coming days.
  • India has become the third country to pass four million coronavirus infections, overtaking Brazil as the second hardest-hit country
  • Malaysia recorded its highest spike in infections in three months
  • 35 people have tested positive for coronavirus at Greece’s largest migrant camp in Lesbos, leading to warnings of a potential ‘catastrophe’


In Spain, the first country in Western Europe to record half a million cases, officials have denied suffering a second wave.

The death rate remains well below the first peak, with newer infections thought to be mainly among younger people. 

Dr Cristina Chicote, based in Valencia, said intensive care units (ICUs) are far calmer now than at the height of the outbreak, when the situation was ‘fear and chaos’.

However, medics are only just beginning to understand the impact of the virus on people who may have neglected going to hospital for fear of becoming infected.

‘The situation we are facing now is that we have to take care of advanced diseases or very symptomatic patients that did not come to the hospital during the pandemic and their illnesses worsened at home,’ Dr Chicotle said.

‘The resources the government implemented during the pandemic must extend in time in order to face this problem, but we are not exactly getting that.


‘Public opinion is also changing. We are turning from heroes to enemies because the population is now demanding a level of care we have no way to offer, even if we all give the best of ourselves.

‘We need more resources and more staff, the big battle may be over but the war is not won yet.’

Where is coronavirus slowing down?

Coronavirus isn’t rising everywhere.

Scientists tracking the global spread of the virus are struggling to explain why there have been so few outbreaks in Africa.

In the early stages of the pandemic, leaders and experts across the continent broadly agreed that it faced a severe threat due to fragile health systems in many countries.

However, infection and death rates have remained much lower in African nations than virtually every other part of the world.

South Africa, the region’s worst-hit country, is emerging from its first wave with a Covid-19 death rate roughly seven times lower than Britain’s.

Experts have speculated that the prohibition on alcohol may have played a part in this, as the reduction in hospital admissions caused by drinking freed up scarce resources.

Pushing a different theory, the country’s top virologist Shabir Madhi said overcrowding in townships may have actually given highly populated areas more protection from the virus.

He cited the high number of asymptomatic patients in these areas, though sceptics pointed out that the virus couldn’t be contained once it reached densely populated neighbourhoods in Brazil and India.

Dr Simone Soares, a final year medical student who has been working in one of Johannesburg’s busiest hospitals, said the country’s many health burdens meant healthcare workers were well-equipped to deal with the pandemic.

She told Metro.co.uk: ‘Healthcare workers are forged through fire – made to be tough. In South Africa, perhaps even more so.

‘[Through] years of training, internships and beyond, we are exposed to a population faced with multiple burdens.  These include HIV/TB, high rates of acute trauma, as well as the classic non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes – all of this in the context of strained resources.

‘I truly believe that this resilience is also our finest asset.  With the ability to adapt and ‘make do’ our health care workers are able to work under pressure and have lead us admirably through our first peak.’

Forgotten success stories

Some experts say a lack of testing and issues with data may be hiding the true scale of the pandemic in Africa. The World Health Organiszation (WHO) said low numbers could also be down to the relatively young population of the continent, as more than 60% of people are under the age of 25.

However, some academics say success stories in African nations are simply being overlooked.

Researches in Rwanda have been praised for using an algorithm to refine testing amid a shortage of supplies. The approach, known as pool testing, combines samples of several people into one tube, with each person tested individually only if the batch comes back positive. (If the batch comes back negative, everyone in the sample is declared covid-free).

Sema Sgaier, a Harvard professor of global health, called the testing method an example of the ‘incredible solutions in very resource-poor settings’. The east African nation has only recorded 19 deaths at the time of writing, with WHO director general Tedros Adhanom also praising the county’s ‘strong response’.

But Dr Florence Sibomana, from the capital Kigali, cautioned against being overly optimistic. She warned that a spike in the virus could have a deadly impact on existing problems in developing countries like hers, such as malnutrition and gender based violence.

She said: ‘I think if the virus is going to last very long, especially in low and middle income countries where you have other problems, it’s going to have a very big impact to our healthcare system, to our economy, but also to our political landscape.

‘The government is not strong enough to give basic money to people who don’t have jobs during lockdown, this will cause political insecurity and a rise in crime.

‘Malnutrition is already a problem, so an increased poverty line because of coronavirus will make that worse’.

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