‘This Is the Last Stop’: Shooting Britain’s Struggle Against Covid

After receiving access to hospitals, nursing homes and burial sites, I saw up close the nation’s agony, and grit.

By Andrew Testa

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I had covered wars before, in the Balkans and Afghanistan. They were shooting wars where journalists — often foolishly — convinced themselves that they had a chance of identifying and sidestepping danger.

But in Britain’s war against Covid-19, the days I spent as a freelance photojournalist covering the intensive care unit of the Homerton hospital in East London involved danger with every breath. The project for The New York Times documenting the nation’s fight against the coronavirus was terrifying and awe-inspiring. Terrifying because of potential exposure to an invisible killer that has claimed over 120,000 lives in Britain and more than 2.5 million globally. Awe-inspiring because I could witness the remarkable courage, professionalism and sheer grit of medical personnel whose daily routines placed them on the very cusp of life and death.

Even the most advanced modern medicine offers no magic cures. For those who can’t make it out of the I.C.U., there is only death. This is the last stop. What stayed with me afterward was the fear in people’s eyes as they joined what could be the final battle. For the medical staff, the burden of responsibility is enormous.

As Britain approaches a gradual loosening of its most draconian lockdown, and with millions of people securing access to vaccines, images of this terminal conflict do not fit easily into the official narrative.

Many Britons are probably unaware of the brutal reality of the I.C.U.: the constant bleeps of monitors everywhere; the staff hurrying to flip over, or “prone,” patients to help them breathe; the all-too-brief respites that give way to frenetic activity.

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