The UK should prepare itself for a second COVID-19 wave this winter, a new report warns.
A second peak would pose a ‘serious risk to health’ in the UK, the report from the Academy of Medical Sciences shows. Further, it highlights the current disruption in health service, along with a backlog of patients, all placing additional pressure on usual challenges during winter.
The study also points to other infectious diseases that grow more common during winter, such as the flu, putting an additional burden on the health service.
Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21
The report, Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21, urges governments and businesses for intense preparation for this winter.
- Minimising transmission of coronavirus in the community. A public information campaign for all, alongside advice tailored to individuals and communities at high risk
- Reorganise health and social care staff and also facilities to maintain COVID-19 and COVID-19-free zones. Ensure there is adequate PPE, testing and system-wide infection-control measures to consequently minimise transmission in hospitals and care homes
- Increase capacity of the test, trace and isolate programme. This will help cope with the overlapping symptoms of coronavirus, flu and other winter infections
- Guard against the worst effects of flu. This will include a coordinated effort to safely vaccinate people at risk, as well as health and care workers.
Research shows a high degree of uncertainty about how the pandemic will spread during the winter months. The study suggests a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’.
The outcome is based on the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to (the R value) rising to 1.7 from September.
Prepare for the worst
Professor Stephen Holgate, a respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, chaired the report.
He believes the next two months are a ‘critical window’ to make sure the country prepares for a second wave.
‘This is not a prediction, but it is a possibility,’ he said. ‘The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately.
‘With relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity. It will help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.’