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Battling the Second Wave in the UK

The second wave of Covid-19 swept across the UK with a vengeance. While daily recorded cases during the first wave hit a high of around 6,000 cases, the second wave saw daily highs reaching 20,000 and over, in part due to vastly higher rates of testing. Despite a speedy rollout of vaccinations across the most vulnerable groups and an ever shifting set of restrictions and advisories, Britain has still experienced the highest per capita death rate of any large country.

Years of cutbacks to funding of the National Health Service (NHS), an institution treasured by many Britons, meant a shortage of intensive care facilities at the beginning of the pandemic that had to be upscaled to sometimes treble the usual volume of incoming patients within weeks. And while the spring and summer saw the numbers of cases and fatalities slowly decline, leading to the easing of restrictions, the autumn and subsequent Christmas period brought the pandemic roaring back. On 20 January 2021, 1820 deaths were recorded among people who had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the previous 28 days, the highest figure thus far.

The disease has not struck evenly across the population. People from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are much more likely to die or sustain long term damage to their health than Caucasians. Socioeconomic factors have also led to very different levels of covid infection and different outcomes for people who have contracted the virus. The third lockdown in England, which began on 5th January, and the rising levels of vaccination have brought the numbers down, but worries remain that scepticism toward the vaccine and the staged easing of restrictions throughout April and May will lead to another spike.

While hospitals and health workers are engaged in a battle to contain the virus and save lives, undertakers have also been pulled along in the general maelstrom of the virus. Not only have numbers of burials increased enormously; new regulations on how funerals are to be carried out - no touching of the coffin or placing of flowers, no carrying of coffins on the shoulders of mourners, no more than 30 people at any funeral - have made a painful ritual all the more distressing for many, including the staff at funeral homes who are there to comfort people.

Andrew Testa travelled across the United Kingdom throughout the second wave of the pandemic and documented the experiences of those fighting to survive the virus and the those risking their lives to help.
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