Prepare for a second COVID-19 wave, experts warn

The UK needs to start preparing for a new wave of COVID-19 infections to hit this winter, a new report has warnedThe UK needs to start preparing for a new wave of COVID-19 infections to hit this winter, a new report has warned.

According to research from the Academy of Medical Sciences, the possibility of a second peak poses a ‘serious risk to health’ in the UK.

It states that factors such as the current disruption to the health service, a backlog of patients and the possibility of a flu epidemic would put additional pressure on the usual challenge of winter.

As weather starts to get colder, other infectious diseases grow more common. Conditions such as heart attacks, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke worsen.

Reorganise and minimise

The new report – Preparing for a challenging winter 2020/21 – urges for ‘intense preparation’ from across the UK. It calls for arrangements to take place throughout the rest of July and August.

Advice includes:

  • 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 facilities to maintain COVID-19 and COVID-19-free zones. Ensure there is adequate PPE, testing and system-wide infection-control measures to 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.

The research acknowledges a high degree of uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve over the coming months. However, it suggests a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’.

This will be where the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to (Rt value) rises to 1.7 from September 2020 onwards.

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 making sure the country is prepared 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.’

The full report can be read here.

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