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PREGNANCY

Testing times: Pregnancy in the time of coronavirus

Pregnant with twins, Ainhoa Martinez knows she probably should be home being careful rather than putting herself at risk by serving the public every day at her boutique teashop near Madrid.

Testing times: Pregnancy in the time of coronavirus
A pregnant woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure walks past a street mural in Hong Kong, Photo: AFP

With all but food shops shuttered for the past three weeks as Spain seeks to curb the spread of the virus that has claimed over 13,000 lives, this 36-year-old says she has no choice or they'll have no money.

But what really freaks her out is the thought of going for her 20-week scan at a hospital overwhelmed with coronavirus cases.

“They said the 20-week scan is very, very important and it's my first pregnancy, but I don't want to put myself at risk,” she told AFP.   

“What if I go with my husband and the police stop us? Not only are you taking up the time of a policeman who should be dealing with the outbreak, but you don't know whether he himself is infected,” she said.

In Spain, police are quick to fine anyone violating the terms of the lockdown under which people can only leave home for food, medicine or a medical emergency.

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For expectant mothers across the world, the deadly pandemic has caused a huge spike in stress and anxiety, compounded by a multi-national lockdown that has played havoc with birth plans and raised countless questions few can answer.

“It shouldn't be be scary to go and have a scan done, it should be exciting,” says Sophie Hales, a first-time mum who just had her 20-week scan at a hospital in Luton near London.

Even though British hospitals are not yet under the same pressure as those in Spain, the atmosphere at the ultrasound clinic was tense, the experience “daunting”.

“Going on your own, especially to a place where you don't know if you're in a room with people that could be carriers of this virus and knowing full well you've got a little baby growing inside you — it's very, very unnerving,” said Hales, 25.

“For me, it would be very terrifying if I was to be confirmed positive because you want to be as strong, as healthy as you can when you're carrying a child.”

Nightmare turned reality

For Vanesa Muro it was a nightmare that came true just days before she was to give birth at a hospital in Madrid, Spain's worst-hit region where more than 5,000 have now died and hospitals are on the brink of collapse.

“It was really frightening thinking about whether I could have it passed on to my baby,” she said, describing how her husband rushed her to A&E but was not allowed to stay.

“They wanted the baby out as quickly as possible to see if he'd been infected so they decided to do it then and there,” she said.   

Operated on by medics cocooned in protective suits, she gave birth alone to a healthy boy, with tests showing he was virus-free.   

The World Health Organisation says there's no scientific evidence showing pregnant women face a higher risk of infection than others.   

But is also says it is unknown whether a mother can pass COVID-19 to her baby, although so far they've found no trace of the virus in amniotic fluid or breast milk.

For these women, fear is a big factor, says midwife Maria Jesus Garcia Diaz, who works at a clinic in the Spanish capital.

“What worries them is how the virus will affect them, but most of all whether it will affect their baby,” she said.   

“One of the most stressful things is uncertainty.. and uncertainty is difficult to alleviate.”

In labour alone?   

For some, uncertainty about the new social distancing rules is particularly acute, with Lumière Nabab, a 29-year-old estate agent from Paris, worrying about going through labour alone.

“It's stressful, we don't understand much, it's all very vague,” she said.    “One minute they say the father can be with you, the next they say he must be in the next room during the delivery.. In some hospitals, the fathers aren't allowed in at all,” she said.   

“The first time you go into labour, it's the unknown — you need reassurance and not to be left all on your own.”

For Maria Rosa Marti, a 29-year-old radiologist from Barcelona who is expecting her second child this week, there are other concerns.   

With colleagues on the frontline, she is very aware of the huge pressure on intensive care units, which have been stretched to breaking point.   

“What worries most is if there is any complication when I'm in labour and they can't take me into intensive care,” she told AFP.   

“For me, a delivery with complications is the worst thing that could happen.”

Managing emotions

With pre-natal classes cancelled, birth-plans ripped up and most checkups now handled by phone, it is the midwives who must help these women through this time of unprecedented upheaval.

“We're seeing a lot of decisions taken as a result of fear and that's not good,” says midwife Garcia Diaz, explaining it was crucial to maintain perspective.

“It is true that people are dying and sick.. but we can't deal with everything,” she said.

“Have a look at your situation and focus on what's around you.     

“What's important is to look after yourself and not to worry. And only watch a little bit of news.”

By Hazel Ward

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COVID-19

New Covid-19 wave in Sweden ‘to peak at end of September’

Sweden's Public Health Agency has warned of a new autumn wave of Covid-19 which it expects to peak at the end of September.

New Covid-19 wave in Sweden 'to peak at end of September'

According to both of the two new scenarios published by the agency on Monday, infection rates are set to rise steadily over the next month, something the agency said was due to a falling immunity in the population and greater contact between people as they return to schools and workplaces after the summer. 

“It is difficult to say how high the peak will be, but it is unlikely that it will reach the same levels as in January and February,” the agency’s unit chief Sara Byfors said in a press release. “The most important thing is that people in risk groups and those who are 65 years old and above get vaccinated with a booster dose in the autumn to reduce the risk of serious illness and death.” 

Under Scenario 0, the amount of contact between people stays at current levels, leading to a peak in reported Covid-19 cases at around 5,000 a day. In Scenario 1, contact between people increases by about 10 percent from the middle of August, leading to a higher peak of about 7,000 reported cases a day. 

The agency said that employers should be prepared for many staff to be off sick simultaneously at points over the next month, but said in its release that it did not judge the situation to be sufficiently serious to require either it or the government to impose additional infection control measures. 

It was important, however, it said, that those managing health and elderly care continued to test those with symptoms and to track the chain of infections, that people go and get the booster doses when they are supposed to have under the vaccination programme, and that those who have symptoms of Covid-19 stay home. 

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