DAVID Armour knows about life and death on the pandemic frontline.
The Brisbane Catholic paramedic working in London has revealed the daily anxiety and pressure of working in the middle of a COVID-19 crisis, as Britain along with the United States and Germany are engulfed by record daily death tolls.
“The country and our NHS (National Health Service) is at crisis point,” Mr Armour said.
He and his wife Hannah, a teacher, first spoke to The Catholic Leader nine months ago during the United Kingdom’s first coronavirus wave, and now say Britons are stunned by the third national lockdown that is claiming more than 1200 lives each day.
“A lot of people feel helpless at the moment so I am grateful that I have a job that in some way can help others in this time of crisis, and I think that’s what drives me,” he said.
Mr Armour has the grim and dangerous task of collecting sick and dying COVID-19 patients, in a city where mayor Sadiq Khan admitted “the virus is out of control”.
Some parts of London are recording one in 20 people with the virus, and the ambulance service is responding to 9000 calls a day.
Mr Armour is amongst the two million in Britain to have received a COVID-19 vaccine jab, and he is hopeful that his wife Hannah will receive one soon.
“I have just started a six-month secondment on the Fast Response Unit which means I’m working on an ambulance car by myself, attending to the highest priority calls in north-west London,” he said.
As well as the risk of exposure and the emotional trauma, most of Mr Armour’s work days end in exhaustion after long hours coping with the sheer numbers of cases.
He finds hospitals full, with nowhere to take patients.
“Doctors and nurses have been treating patients in the back of our ambulances while they are waiting for a bed,” Mr Armour said. “Last week I was waiting with a patient for three-and-a-half hours until a bed became available.
“The London ambulance service (LAS) is doing everything it can to try and cope with the demand including utilising volunteers from the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to work alongside ambulance staff which enables us to get more ambulances out on the road.
“The LAS are also asking staff to come in on their days off where possible to help with the increased demand.”
Mr Armour admitted the risk of catching COVID-19 had become “the new normal” for London paramedics.
“We have learned to live with the risk and stress of potentially catching the virus,” he said.
“A lot of my colleagues have contracted the virus and have recovered only encountering mild symptoms.
“Some have required hospitalisation and unfortunately some have lost their lives.
“I just heard news two weeks ago that another one of my colleagues lost his life to COVID. He was just 48 years old.”
The Armours, both in their early thirties, set off from Brisbane to London in 2017, never imagining a frontline encounter with a health disaster.
They settled in Ealing, north-west London, travelled in Europe, and joined a Neocatechumenal community in St Benedict’s parish.
Mrs Armour teaches at a Catholic primary school in Ealing looking after the children of essential workers, while also engaging students studying remotely from home.
The Armours have been “very grateful” to work during the pandemic, maintaining some degree of normalcy, but they have found the past year “a very testing time due to the repetitive lockdowns and social distancing”, while it has also been difficult for them to attend church.
“That being said I do feel God has had his hand on us immensely during this time,” Mr Armour said.
“It has also been a miracle that I have not contracted the virus and I feel very privileged to have had the vaccine.”
“I think we will remain in London for 2021 and will see what happens once the pandemic calms down.
“There is now a small light at the end of the tunnel.”