PEOPLE must take the coronavirus pandemic more seriously or risk overwhelming the health service, a Gwent doctor has warned.

Dr David Hepburn said Covid-19 spreads "like wildfire" and has the potential to kill anyone who catches it, even if they are young and healthy.

Yesterday, the Royal Gwent Hospital intensive care consultant - who is recovering from coronavirus - shared a video talking about his "dreadful" experiences with the disease.

And now, in an exclusive interview with the South Wales Argus, Dr Hepburn said if people continue to "pooh-pooh" coronavirus and not take social distancing seriously, the outbreak will escalate and place hospitals under extraordinary pressure.

"People aren't aware that it can kill any of us," he said, adding that he and his medical colleagues were "absolutely gobsmacked" to hear of parks, pubs, and beaches full of people on the weekend.

The public health message has been to protect the elderly and most vulnerable members of society, but Dr Hepburn said coronavirus could be severe and life-threatening for anyone, regardless of their age or state of health.

Many of the first coronavirus patients to die in the UK were older and had so-called 'underlying health conditions', but this does not mean younger or healthy people are immune to Covid-19 nor less likely to contract the virus.

As of yesterday, none of the patients in the intensive care unit at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport were aged over 50, and some were in their 20s and otherwise healthy.


The severity of the coronavirus infection is a "lottery", Dr Hepburn said. Anyone with a bad reaction to the virus can develop serious complications and deteriorate rapidly.

Patients who recover in intensive care may still face months in hospital before they are well enough to go home, he added.

The consultant said Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and its frontline staff are working flat out to control the Covid-19 outbreak. The health board area is the worst-affected in Wales.

This at a time when Gwent has the lowest number of critical care beds per head of population in the UK.

"We are coping at the moment but we don't know where we'll be in three weeks' time," said Dr Hepburn.

In other countries with more advanced coronavirus outbreaks, where hospitals have been overwhelmed with infected patients, doctors have faced the ultimate dilemma of having to choose which people received ventilators and which did not.

This is something Dr Hepburn said medical staff in this country wanted to avoid at all costs.

But their ability to cope with the outbreak is being threatened by people who defy public health advice and continue to go out in public unnecessarily - putting at risk themselves, their loved ones, and everyone they come into contact with.

"The key to stopping the spread is to stop people coming into contact with each other," he said.

"People can't get coronavirus unless they get it from somebody else.

"This is the only way to stop it."