The news: We should prepare now for a potential new wave of coronavirus cases this winter, according to the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences. Health-care systems tend to struggle in winter anyway because infectious diseases spread faster as we spend more time in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and because conditions like asthma, heart attacks, and stroke tend to be exacerbated in colder temperatures. But if you factor a potential winter rise in covid-19 infections that could be worse than the initial outbreak, a backlog of patients with other conditions, and exhausted frontline workers, health-care systems could be pushed beyond their limit, the academy has warned in a new report.
Some figures: The academy has modeled the “reasonable worst-case scenario” for the UK and says the number of covid-19-related hospital deaths between September 2020 and June 2021 could reach 119,900, more than double the 45,000 deaths in the UK so far. The researchers think deaths are likely to peak in January and February. This figure doesn’t include potential deaths in care homes, which account for about a third of all deaths in England so far. Although the report relates specifically to the UK, the same conclusions could be drawn for many countries around the world. However, it’s worth remembering it is a model of worst-case outcomes, and doesn’t consider potential new drugs, treatments, or vaccines. It’s also based on the assumption that it won’t be feasible to introduce a lockdown in the UK again.
What can we do about it? To avoid the dire situation the academy outlines, it will be crucial to minimize transmission in the community through measures like social distancing and hand washing, the academy said. It’s also important to build up stockpiles of adequate personal protective equipment for health and social care staff, ramp up testing and tracing programs, create an early warning system to monitor and manage a winter wave, and inoculate the elderly and health-care workers against flu.