Drive yourself to the hospital if you can. Park outside A&E but don't get out of your car. Call us on arrival and a nurse will find you.
Those were the instructions I was given a few hours after stepping off a plane from Hanoi, Vietnam.
A nurse protected by a plastic face shield, thicker than normal rubber gloves and wearing a disposable plastic uniform checked my pulse, blood pressure and oxygen levels through the car window with me sitting behind the wheel. She then took a swab from my mouth and inside my nose. You'll know the results within 48 hours, I was told. The results will reveal whether I have coronavirus or, more precisely, COVID-19.
I hope and believe I haven't got the dreaded virus. So do my doctors.
I flew back from a holiday in Vietnam and Cambodia, and new official advice said anyone coming home from those two countries (plus a string of others) who was showing any symptom of COVID-19 – I have a cough – should call 111, prepare to be tested and to isolate themselves at home until the results are known.
I read the leaflet I'd been given. Do not go to work, public areas or use public transport, it informs me. So far so predictable. Don't use the same towels as your family or same bathroom (if you're lucky enough to have two). Don't use the same bedroom as anyone else. Do not throw out any rubbish. On and on it goes. All a reminder that this is serious. Deadly serious. Not for me but for those we all want to protect – those for whom catching COVID 19 won't be, at best, a few days off work watching the TV and, at worst, a nasty bug.
Governments and public health professionals here and elsewhere are wrestling with how to limit the spread of a virus which they are only just beginning to understand. They are trying to do this in a world where we all expect to travel – whether to our nearest town or right across the world – and to spend time at matches, concerts or gigs with thousands of strangers. They need us to be prepared but not to panic.
That requires us all to do something I had to learn after I was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. Initially, I treated my doctors like someone I was interviewing on the radio – demanding answers.
I searched the internet looking for what they couldn't or wouldn’t tell me. I craved certainty. Then one consultant explained patiently that doctors don't and can't know everything, there can be no certainty and there are no risk-free courses of action.
As I wait for the result of my test I think of the health service workers – doctors, nurses and many others besides – who are already overwhelmed by the demands COVID-19 is placing on them. They need not just our thanks but also our help and, above all, our understanding.
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