WCRAQ Chair of Air Health releases new report forewarning possibility of a COVID-19 winter wave

As the UK is easing lockdown restrictions, WCRAQ’s Chair of Air Health, Prof Stephen Holgate, has released a new report outlining the possibility of 120,000 further coronavirus deaths in a second wave of infections this winter.

Chair for Air Health, Professor Stephen Holgate has released a new report specifying the possibility of a bigger second wave of COVID-19 this winter

Currently, there have been 44,830 official deaths. This rate has slowed, with 1,100 deaths recorded in July.

However, Prof Stephen Holgate, a leading respiratory specialist from University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust, chaired a new report that outlines a ‘reasonable’ worst-case scenario of 24,500 to 251,000 virus-related deaths in hospitals alone: peaking in January and February. The research does not take into account any lockdown measures, treatments or vaccines. Scientists say that the risk ‘could be reduced if we take action immediately’.

The report was requested by the UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. It stresses that there is a high degree of uncertainty over how the pandemic will play out this winter.

Research suggests the virus can survive longer in colder conditions. While people spend more time indoors, with fewer windows open and therefore less ventilation, the virus is more likely to spread.

Yet, the report was also concerned with how the already stretched NHS could cope with a second, much larger, wave. It would be under extreme pressure, not only from the resurgence of the virus but also from seasonal flu and a backlog of its regular workload. The health service is already severely disrupted and by the end of 2020, could have a waiting list of 10 million.

On a less pessimistic note, Holgate reiterates that, with current low numbers of coronavirus cases, we are now in a good position to plan. ‘This is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us’.

Moreover, there are less pessimistic winter scenarios also possible, with coronavirus deaths in the thousands. ‘This is not a prediction – but it is a possibility’, Prof Holgate emphasises.

Co-author Prof Dame Anne Johnson, of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: ‘This report shows that we can act now and change things for the better’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that planning for the expected surge in demand on the NHS is already underway. Enough flu vaccine has been procured to for the ‘biggest flu vaccine programme in history with work on a coronavirus vaccination programme being set up, should a vaccine be found.

A government statement said: ‘We remain vigilant and the government will ensure the necessary resources are in place to avoid a second peak that would overwhelm our NHS’.