The Academy of Medical Sciences in the United Kingdom has modeled what it described as a “reasonable worst-case scenario,” in which the number of coronavirus-related hospital deaths in the country between September 2020 and June 2021 could more than double.
This projection does not include potential deaths in care homes, which have accounted for about 30% of the overall number of coronavirus deaths.
“The modeling 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,” Professor Stephen Holgate, a respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, who chaired the report, said in a release.
“With relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases at the moment, this is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us.”
In colder weather, people often spend more time in indoor spaces with poor ventilation, which is a perfect environment for the coronavirus to spread more easily. Lower humidity, cooler temperatures and darker conditions could also mean the coronavirus lingers longer on surfaces.
“In cold, wet or windy weather, people are reluctant to open windows as they create cold drafts and hence they often have lower ventilation rates in winter,” the report noted. “This can be a particular challenge in modern airtight buildings which have very low infiltration rates for energy efficiency and for people on low incomes who are trying to keep heating costs down.”
“Every winter we see an increase in the number of people admitted to hospital and in the number of people dying in the U.K.,” Professor Dame Anne Johnson, vice president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said in a release.
“This is due to a combination of seasonal infections such as flu, and the effects of colder weather, for example, on heart and lung conditions. This winter, we have to factor in the likelihood of another wave of coronavirus infections and the ongoing impacts of the first wave. We have to be prepared that we might also experience a flu epidemic this year.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.