The United Kingdom runs the most effective vaccination programme in Europe. One in six British have now had a vaccine against corona. However, there is mainly gloom: in the pandemic with more than 110,000 coronadodes, the country also has by far the highest mortality rate in Europe.
Every day around 1000 people die of corona in the country. One of the most affected regions is the West Midlands. Jack OMalley is there an undertaker. In normal times, he does an average of three funerals a week, now hes constantly in the weather.
“ Last Monday we got nine bodies in one morning. On Tuesday and Wednesday we got three. There are days when I do three funerals in one day. Four out of five people we are now burying have died of covid.”
Cooling room enlarged
For OMalley it is now a routine that he performs several times a day. The undertaker puts on a mouthcap and a visor. He puts on protective clothing and rubber gloves. He then takes disinfectants and kitchen rolls to a stretcher. Only then does he get to his real work: preparing a body for the funeral.
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic this resulted in frightening moments. “We didnt know much about the virus then. Of course, we are not as much at risk as in hospitals, for example, but even after death, a person can still be contagious. My immune system is compromised because I have diabetes, so it was frightening.”
In the cold room where OMalley prepares the deceased for their funeral, eighteen bodies are stored today. “Until a year ago had a maximum capacity of nine, but that was clearly too little.”
After the first wave, OMalley decided to remodel the cold room so it could accommodate more bodies. “That was in the summer when the worst seemed to be over. We were fooling at that time that enlargement had been for nothing. But since Christmas Day, weve been flooded by covid-dead. The last month was the worst in the pandemic.”
The work is hard and his staff have suffered an emotional blow, says OMalley. “When I come home after work, Id like to go straight into bed. You want to shut yourself down and forget about the day. But it is our duty to take care of the deceased and their grieving families. We realise more than ever how important our work is.”
Mass vaccination in a cathedral
At the same time in the United Kingdom, after a difficult year, cautious hope is also shining. And that hope can be found in special places. A 15-minute drive from the funeral home is Lichfield Cathedral, a medieval cathedral with three impressive spires. The centuries-old building has been transformed into a centre for mass vaccination in recent weeks.
In order to be able to prick as many people as possible in a short period of time, the UK Health Service uses in addition to hospitals and general practitioners, rugby stadiums, concert halls, horse racetracks, sheds and cathedrals.
In doing so, the United Kingdom has set up the most successful vaccination programme throughout Europe. Not only were the British the first to approve a vaccine in Europe, they also manage to vaccinate 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants every day. The United Kingdom therefore has an ambitious objective: to vaccinate all those over 70 and vulnerable groups by 15 February.
Half a year ago, Dean Adrian Dorber conceived the idea of using the Litchfield Cathedral for the vaccination programme. “Its a logical place. The building is spacious so you can easily keep distance. You can keep the doors open, allowing the air to circulate.”
For Dorber it is obvious that the cathedral plays this role. “In the Middle Ages, this was already one of Englands most popular pilgrimage spots, where people went in search of healing. This is what weve always been doing. We pray every day for healing people and communities, both physically and spiritually.”
In the cathedral, one-way traffic has been set up in which people are led to tables with nurses via the side aisle on the west side. After they get their shot, they go out on the other side again. Dozens of volunteers are ready to help the mostly older visitors. In this oiled machine between 700 and 800 people are vaccinated every day.
Success thanks to improvisation
According to Nurse Elaine Harris, who has been working a table in the cathedral for three weeks now, the success of the British vaccination programme is due to improvisation. “It has to do with how we are British. Well do what we have and get to work. We do not wait for everything to be perfect.”
Harris finally sees light at the end of the tunnel after a blackened year.“We have great hopes that this is our way out. The faster everyone is vaccinated, the faster we can resume our lives so that we can get together with our loved ones.”