One of the doctors behind a hard-hitting video aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland said it was partly inspired by members of the public who had failed to heed social distancing pleas.
Nick Magee, a respiratory consultant at Belfast City Hospital, also said contributors thought long and hard about using the word ‘frightening’ in their piece to camera but ultimately decided it was necessary.
Doctors, nurses and physiotherapists from the Belfast Trust Respiratory Team recorded the video - which really brought home the potentially catastrophic effects of the coronavirus pandemic on families here - at the Mater Hospital on Mothering Sunday.
It was made after several members had witnessed, to their dismay, large gatherings of local people seemingly treating the current crisis as an impromptu public holiday.
“When we saw on social media that people were gathering in places like Portrush and Portstewart we realised that the message may not be getting through,” said Mr Magee, who decided one of the best courses of action was to take to social media themselves in response.
“The fact that people were still congregating on Saturday and Sunday shows that people weren’t taking it as seriously as it potentially could be.
“We thought we could help the people in Northern Ireland to stay at home because we realised that if it was the local frontline doctors, nurses and physios telling them this they might listen to that rather than just politicians.”
He said there had been a great response to the video from co-workers and the public alike.
Mr Magee added: “I think it wasn’t until they [the public] heard from the people who will be treating them that they realised that this could be really serious.”
If we create some anxiety as a side effect - we want to not do that as much as possible - but if this is what we have to do to try and delay the spread ... we need the public to help us beat thisDr Nick Magee
The montage, taken at the atrium at the Mater Hospital, opens with Mr Magee, who has worked in medicine for 20 years, stating: “We are now in the greatest medical crisis of our lifetime. Stay at home.”
Another colleague later says: “We’re facing our greatest challenge and we’re frightened.”
Mr Magee said there was “a lot” of discussion about using language that could potentially scare people but said they believed it was necessary to reinforce their message.
“The best treatment is to delay the spread,” he said.
“If we create some anxiety as a side effect - we want to not do that as much as possible - but if this is what we have to do to try and delay the spread ... we need the public to help us beat this.”
Mr Magee said that as this is a “crucial week” they wanted to “get this message out as soon as possible” to keep “simple” and “the same as the chief medical officer and other medical leaders”.
He said the video, produced by Red Box Media, gave various health professionals an opportunity to get their message across.
“Everybody had different ideas and that’s how we came to have different people talking,” he said.
“We had different individual messages that we wanted to get across.
“It is in the public’s hands at the moment.”
The message to members of the public is to stay at home, limit your contact and wash your hands to delay the spread of coronavirus. But, equally, if you fall ill, Mr Magee said you will be in good hands.
He added: “If you’re well, stay at home, but if you’re not well we are here to look after you and we want to do that.
“It is a respiratory illness like the flu so we’re very used to dealing with this.”
A further 20 cases were confirmed yesterday, bringing to 148 the number of known cases in Northern Ireland, but there are fears that a surge is imminent.
Mr Magee added: “This week particularly is really important because there will be people who have very few symptoms but can still transmit the virus.
“When you look at what has happened in Europe and London, we need to everything we can to avoid a similar situation.
“The numbers of patients that might die from this is huge if we don’t limit the spread.”
Yesterday the Mater was designated as the Belfast Trust’s Covid-19 Hospital.