The danger of a second wave is real. And we must prepare for it now.
The conclusion is reached by the Academy of Medical Sciences in a new report released today. In the report, the researchers point out that there is evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads more readily in winter and that a second wave of infection may be much more extensive and severe than the first.
The report focuses specifically on Britain, which is severely affected with more than 290,000 infections and more than 44,000 deaths during the first wave of infection. However, many of the report’s findings also hold true for other Western European countries – such as the Netherlands – that face similar weather conditions and challenges in winter.
These weather conditions seem to play a role in the corona virus in various ways. For example, there are reasons to believe that the virus is present can spread a lower humidity better. In addition, in winter people spend more time indoors, where the virus may hang in the air for much longer than previously thought possible.
Possibly 119,000 victims in hospitals
Because we are dealing with a virus that we have only recently known and that we do not know everything about, it remains to a certain extent how it behaves in the winter months and what the possible second infection wave will look like. But based on what we now know, Britain is doing well, according to the researchers, to prepare for a ‘fairly worst-case scenario’ in which the reproduction rate will rise to 1.7 again from September. This means that each corona patient infects an average of 1.7 people with the virus. Models indicate that in such a scenario, Britain is rapidly approaching a peak in hospital admissions and deaths from SARS-CoV-2. That peak would be reached in January or February 2021 and coincide with a period in which the British health care system has always been put to the test. It is estimated that the number of people dying in the hospital due to the virus would rise to 119,000 between September 2020 and June 2021, the researchers said. This does not include people who fall victim to the virus in nursing homes. Moreover, in this scenario no account has been taken of new measures that the government would gradually take to limit the number of infections or the use of medication – such as dexamethason – which has recently been proven to increase the chances of survival for corona patients. “This is not a prediction,” emphasizes researcher and lead author of the report, Stephen Holgate. “It is a possibility. The models suggest that the number of deaths during a new wave of contamination in winter may be higher. ”
Flu and corona
This is not only due to changing weather conditions that may play a role in the corona virus. What also plays a role is that the severely tested healthcare system is still recovering from the first wave of infection and it has traditionally been a bit more difficult in winter, because other infectious diseases – such as influenza – are also emerging. And there is a danger that an influenza epidemic will coincide with a spike in corona infections, thereby demanding the utmost of our health system. “Every winter we see an increase in the number of people who need to be hospitalized and the number of people who die,” said Professor Anne Johnson, one of the experts who co-wrote the report. “This is due to a combination of seasonal infectious diseases, such as the flu, and the effects of cold weather on, for example, heart and lung diseases. This winter there is also the possibility that a second wave of contamination will arise, while we are still dealing with the impact of the first wave. At the same time, we need to prepare for the possibility of experiencing a flu epidemic this year. ” Such a flu epidemic not only puts further pressure on the health system, but also makes it a lot more difficult to test everyone with corona symptoms, because the flu is roughly characterized by the same symptoms as the corona virus.
“Now that we can face these challenges after an already difficult year, we can easily feel hopeless and powerless,” said Johnson. But you don’t have to. In fact, the worst-case scenario could possibly be averted if action is taken now. “With the coronation cases relationship low, this is when we have the opportunity to prepare for the worst that could bring us this winter,” said Holgate.
And in their report, the researchers make a number of recommendations. For example, the test capacity must be scaled up quickly. Also, a system that is almost in place should be set up real time gives a good picture of the current state of the number of new infections, hospital admissions, deaths, etc. so that the wave of infection can be closely monitored and on the basis of those data measures can be taken to contain the virus. In addition, it is more important than ever that vulnerable groups and health workers get their flu shot, and thus protect themselves against the worst effects that an influenza epidemic can have. Finally, it is important that people remain aware of the dangers of the virus (and the threat that it poses in the winter months in particular), that they continue to monitor all corona measures closely and that risk groups receive tailored corona advice. “We need to minimize the risk of infection from the coronavirus and influenza viruses everywhere – especially in hospitals and nursing homes,” Johnson concluded. “We need to get our health and social care in order and have a program ready to be able to test in the winter, to do contact research and to isolate people. It is possible, but it has to be done now. ”
Since the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus emerged in China in December 2019, more than 13 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus. And more than 573,000 people have died from the virus. While many European countries currently seem to be in good control of the virus, the number of new infections in other parts of the world is still increasing rapidly. For example, more than 230,000 new cases of infection were reported last Sunday. Half of these were identified in Brazil and the United States. The two countries have had a hard time in recent weeks. For example, the virus has been diagnosed in more than 3.3 million people in the US and more than 135,000 deaths have been reported. In Brazil, the number of confirmed infections is over 1.8 million. More than 72,000 Brazilians have already succumbed to the virus. Meanwhile, new outbreaks are emerging in countries that seemed to have the virus under control and were easing. It makes it clear that the virus takes every opportunity to spread. “If the basic health principles – social distancing, washing hands, wearing a mouth mask, coughing in the elbow and staying home when you are sick – are not followed, this pandemic can only go one way. It is getting worse and worse and worse, ”Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General warned yesterday. “But it doesn’t have to be that way. Every leader, government and individual can do his bit to break the transmission chain and end this collective suffering. I am not saying it is easy, because it is clearly not (…) But I want to be very clear with you: there will be no return to the ‘old normal’ in the near future. However, there is a roadmap that shows the way to a situation where we can control the disease and continue with our lives. But that requires three things: a focus on limiting mortality and the spread of the virus. Second, an engaged community in which individuals adjust their behavior for the sake of others. And third, strong leadership from governments that communicate strategies clearly and consistently. It’s possible. And you have to. ”
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