LONDON: Sopranos and tenors have joined the fight against COVID-19 in Britain, helping patients struggling to shake off the disease by teaching them breathing exercises to deal with respiratory problems and anxiety.
After a successful six-week pilot, the English National Opera is now rolling out its ENO Breathe programme to 1,000 patients, offering exercises involving singing, breath techniques and mindfulness well-being practices.
"The programme empowered me," Sheeba, a participant in the pilot, told AFP.
"I know how to deal with the breathlessnesses brought on by the condition I had," she added.
"It was like a musical group therapy, everyone got on really well. I felt, 'Okay, I've got someone who can relate to me.'"
The scheme, available for patients eight to 12 weeks after their initial diagnosis, was created in partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
Patients suffering from "long COVID", whose symptoms include breathlessness and anxiety in the weeks and months after getting rid of the virus, can now join Zoom sessions with professional vocal specialists to help their recovery.
"It has been designed for and in our current circumstances," said Suzi Zumpe, creative director of ENO Breathe.
"All the design is around being on Zoom. It's extraordinary how connected people feel on a digital platform."
The singers teach patients how to breathe deeply using techniques used in the opera world, such as diaphragmatic breathing and singing lullabies.
Nine in 10 of those taking part in the pilot scheme reported positive improvement in their breathlessness and reduced anxiety.
"It's about taking the strain off the NHS (National Health Service), helping people get back to wellness more quickly," said Jenny Mollica, head of the ENO's learning and participation programme.
"If you are experiencing a moment of profound breathlessness and the associated anxiety, there are some (exercises) you can do to slow and regulate breathing and give your brain a chance to catch up," she added.
Health minister Matt Hancock welcomed the scheme "in helping those suffering from the impact of this terrible virus".