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Tearful NHS nurse 'zipping up body bags' begs public to follow Covid lockdown rules

EXCLUSIVE: Nurse Ameera Sheikh says she has been forced to see a huge amount of death during the COVID-19 pandemic, she is begging the public to follow the rules

ByGrace Macaskill

22:08, 9 JAN 2021

Exhausted nurse Ameera Sheikh fought back tears as she zipped up the body bag on her fourth patient in two days.  All around her, colleagues battled to save people gasping for breath with Covid-19 on one of London’s worst-hit intensive care units.  But there was no respite and there will be none for weeks to come.  In a moving account, Ameera, 28, tells of being haunted by the sick and dying, saying: “We are on our feet for 13 or 14 hours a day, running around.  I don’t sleep any more because the nightmares are too much.”

As the second wave engulfs the NHS with more than 1,000 Covid deaths recorded in Britain yesterday Ameera paints a picture of desperation and chaos on Britain’s hospital wards.  And she begs Sunday People readers: “Please don’t break the rules. I have worked overseas in less developed countries where they don’t have the resources like we do and what is going on right now reminds me of those experiences.  Death was all around then and death is all around us now. And each day is as bad as the next. Some days it’s so ­intense. You feel so sick inside that you can’t even bring yourself to drink a glass of water.”

Yesterday, the overall death toll from Covid-19 hit 80,000.  A further 1,035 people were recorded as dying in the deadliest Saturday since April 18 as the new variant sweeps across the country.  Another 59,937 people tested ­positive for the virus, but the Government’s SAGE scientific ­advisers believe as many as 150,000 are getting infected every day.  For frontliners like Ameera, who has worked for the NHS for 12 years, they have to remain professional, even when they know people are breaking guidelines. She said: “As healthcare workers we have to suspend judgement. Some people are very lucky not to have experienced Covid.  They need to realise the world doesn’t revolve around them. Other people are living in this world too and many have died because people chose not to wear a mask or wanted to hang out with their pals.”

Some don’t ­believe Covid-19 exists at all. Others are unapologetic for mixing with others.  Ameera, also a Unite union rep, ­added: “Colleagues in the emergency department are getting some very vague responses when they ask people how they think they got Covid.  Others admit to flouting the laws and are apologetic, while others don’t care. They have maybe lost their jobs or feel isolated and therefore don’t trust anything the Goverment says.  Some are very sick but deny they have Covid at all.”

Her message to anti-lockdown groups is simple: Get real.  Ameera said: “They don’t have any medical qualifications yet feel it’s OK to make unfounded comments.  When will they realise what’s really going on? Will it be when they lose someone they love? We can have a day where patients are dying all day long and you are having to quickly wash them and zip up a body bag.  None of the people from anti-lockdown groups will ever zip up a body bag in their lives.”

Doctors and nurses are risking their lives to treat patients, day in, day out.  Ameera said: “I’ve lost friends and colleagues to this virus and we have doctors working in red zones who have come back from retirement or are medically vulnerable.  Staff are falling sick and it’s no surprise when, in many areas of the hospital, they are only wearing aprons and simple surgical masks.  It’s only the staff on ICU who are wearing full PPE. Everyone is scared of catching the new variant because it’s so much more infectious and many of us are still waiting for our vaccinations.  Each trust has a number to call to book in for the vaccine but it’s very busy and they often don’t have same-day appointments.”

She added: “It’s hard to find the time as well when you get WhatsApp messages asking, ‘Can you come back into work, we need everyone we can get’.”

The leading nurse, who campaigned for better pay and conditions outside Downing Street last summer, also claims hospitals are so overwhelmed that patients are knowingly being placed in wards with positive cases.  Ameera said: “In London we are playing musical beds, moving patients from one hospital to another nearby to create space.  We are opening new intensive care units and new Covid wards, but with what staff? A lot of staff handed in their resignations after the first wave. Nurses are looking after three or even four patients each in ICU.  There are some hospitals who have the odd negative patient amongst a bay of positive cases because they’ve run out of side rooms.”