An Indian-origin doctor, who has crowdfunded more than 53,000 pounds towards a legal battle against the UK government over the lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, led a silent protest to Downing Street here to raise awareness over the issue.
Dr Meenal Viz, who is eight months pregnant, was joined by a group of medics dressed in scrubs and face masks at the "Doctors, not Martyrs" protest on Thursday evening, where they stared down the armed police on guard outside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office.
The protest coincided with the weekly "clap for carers" initiative, held every Thursday at 8 pm local UK time to honour key workers on the frontline of the pandemic fightback.
Johnson also stepped out of his No. 10 Downing Street door to mark the 10th week of the initiative to honour National Health Service (NHS) workers and carers in the wider community.
"I want to thank each and every one of our wonderful NHS and care workers for the incredible, selfless work they do to look after us all," he wrote on Twitter.
Just a few steps away, the small group of protesters staged their socially distanced silent protest.
"As a doctor, I've appreciated your support during Clap For Carers. But instead of clapping, I'll observe silence in remembrance of my 237 colleagues who have died during the pandemic," said Viz.
"The government love to talk. This was our show of pure silence to cut through that," she said.
Viz, along with her doctor husband Nishant Joshi, are in the process of seeking a judicial review in the High Court in London after receiving what they believe are "unconvincing" responses from the government over "risky" guidance issued on the use of life-saving PPE, such as surgical gowns.
The legal challenge against the guidance, which applies to healthcare and social care workers, claims that it reduces the requirement to wear PPE and allows for re-use of some PPE.
It is argued that this goes against World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance and puts healthcare workers at risk, breaching their legal protections at work and their human rights.
PPE covers equipment such as surgical masks, gloves, aprons, gowns, goggles and full-face visors required based on the levels of exposure to infection among healthcare professionals.
"This case is about protecting frontline health and social care workers and ensuring they have the minimal protections they need to work as safely as possible. In the face of what the government itself calls 'acute shortages' of PPE, there remain some baseline protections which the government must respect," Estelle Dehon, a barrister representing the couple.
"The WHO guidelines are designed to maintain those protections despite acute shortages of PPE and the Government has not explained why it has taken a different approach that causes greater risk for frontline staff," she said.
The couple said they had asked "simple questions" in a pre-action legal letter and had hoped for an open dialogue and swift resolution with UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"Dr Viz and Dr Joshi cannot wait any longer, given the urgent need to protect health care workers, their families and ultimately their patients," said Jamie Potter, Partner at Bindmans LLP and their solicitor.
The Department of Health has not commented on the legal challenge directly but has previously stressed that measures are in place to minimise risk.
Earlier this week addressing a daily Downing Street briefing, Hancock said that "significant progress" had been made on issues surrounding PPE.
"While we continue to improve the logistics and work hard to get everyone, the PPE that they need these new supplies mean that we're not simply keeping up with demand, we are now able to begin to replenish our stockpiles," the health minister said.
"There is a lot further to go on PPE, as on so many things, but we have made significant progress, and I'd like to thank everybody involved. PPE of course is so important, because it's about protecting the people who protect us. And we'll do that for as long as the virus remains on these shores," he said.