Scientists called on governments and people to prepare for a potential new wave of coronavirus infections this winter, warning that it could be more serious than the first wave.
The report, published by The Academy of Medical Sciences in the UK Tuesday, said July and August need to be “a period of intense preparation” for a potential worst-case scenario for the virus come winter.
Health systems in the UK, where the study focused, typically operate at maximum capacity in the winter months, with bed occupancy exceeding 95 percent in recent years, the report says. A resurgence in coronavirus would severely test the limits of already strained health resources – running out of beds has been a persistent issue globally for hospitals since the start of the pandemic.
The scientists listed several priorities to help prevent and mitigate a potentially disastrous winter, including:
• Minimizing community COVID-19 spread and impact via policies, public information campaigns and updated guidance.
• Organize health and social care to maximize infection control and ensure that treatment for coronavirus and other ailments can be done in parallel.
• Improve public health surveillance for COVID-19, flu, and other winter diseases. The importance of this data has been highlighted in numerous studies as it helps scientists and officials tailor any response.
• Minimize flu transmission and impact, in particular via increasing the uptake of influenza vaccinations.
“Modelling of our reasonable worst-case scenario – in which the effective reproduction rate of SARS-CoV-2 rises to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards – suggests a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January/February 2021 of a similar magnitude to that of the first wave in spring 2020, coinciding with a period of peak demand on the NHS,” the researchers wrote.
The report also highlights that in addition to the normal challenges associated with healthcare during the winter, this year, as coronavirus continues to surge in the UK, social and health care systems have been disrupted and face additional challenges, meaning they have been unable to prepare for winter months.
Furthermore, the focus on COVID-19 has left a huge backlog of non-coronavirus medical cases in need of help, with some people suffering from chronic conditions unable to get the help they would normally have.