The summer of 2020 has been tough - coronavirus wise. Experts' predictions of the virus slowing down during summer hasn't seen any light. And now, it is being feared that the coming winter will be even tougher. The experts also warned that there could be a surge in coronavirus cases, and the worst is yet to come.
Healthcare systems usually struggle during winter as patient-count with seasonal flu increases. The flu situation will be worsened by Covid-19 this year, making it harder for patients and doctors to determine the infection as both have several overlapping symptoms like fever and cough.
People in Bangladesh suffer greatly from seasonal influenza - claiming over a thousand lives every year. According to "Estimates of seasonal influenza‐associated mortality in Bangladesh, 2010‐2012" - a study published in December 2017 in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there were 1,191 influenza-associated deaths in 22 unions in Bangladesh during the two years. The influenza‐associated mortality rate among all age groups was six per 1,00,000 people in 2010 to 2011 and 11 in 2011‐2012.
Flu season in the US usually begins in October and peaks from December to February. According to CNET, an estimated 40,000 Americans die of flu every year. This mainly depends on the timing of the outbreak, how many people get vaccinated and how well the vaccine works in the given year.
During a webinar with the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Director of US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Robert Redfield, said, "I do think the fall and the winter of 2020 and 2021 are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we've experienced in American public health."
Reuters reported that Britain is faced with a potentially deadlier second wave of Covid-19 in the coming winter that could kill up to 120,000 people. This projection is more than double than the 45,000 coronavirus-related deaths the UK has seen so far.
This begs the question: How can the cold weather further spread the virus?
Experts assume there might be two main reasons behind this. According to CNN, people tend to spend more time indoors in poorly ventilated spaces during winter - one of the reasons coronavirus spreads with more ease during such weathers.
As soon as the temperature starts to drop, most people will lose interest in visiting the parks and open green spaces - a common area to visit to escape the fatigues of quarantine.
The mounting evidence about coronavirus being airborne only adds to the experts' concerns whether the shared indoor public spaces will become more dangerous than before. Staying indoors most of the time during winter can mean that there are more chances of person-to-person transmission of the virus.
According to a report from the Academy of Medical Sciences, it is possible to have a cold or flu while being infected by Covid-19. This increases the risk of sneezing and coughing, making it easier for the virus to spread.
People are generally more prone to diseases during colder weather, which is another reason for the surge in Covid-19 contamination cases.
Lack of sunshine during the fog-dense winter can make us prone to diseases caused by vitamin D deficiency.
Winter is also when the flu season peaks.
Furthermore, the spread of Covid-19 could be aggravated by the overlapping symptoms of a common cold and influenza.
CNN reported that spending more time in closed spaces trying to keep warm with people who are having cold or coughing could brew the perfect storm for coronavirus transmission.
Experts are however saying that there is still some time to prepare.
"This is a critical window of opportunity to help us prepare for the worst that winter can throw at us. We need to do everything we can to stay healthy this winter." Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council clinical professor at the University of Southampton told CNN.
Experts are urging that getting a flu shot is crucial this year. The more people get vaccinated against the flu, the more it can prevent them from simultaneously contracting both Covid-19 and influenza.
Talking to CNN, the director of CDC, Robert Redfield has encouraged Americans to prepare for and embrace flu vaccination. This single act, he mentions, will save lives.
Additionally, wearing masks and maintaining social distance is a must.
Robert Redfield in his webinar with JAMA, predicted that the virus can be controlled within four to eight weeks if everyone in the US wears a mask.
The University of Washington model has also suggested that a universal mask policy could save up to 45,000 lives by November.
Increasing test-and-trace programmes might help to cope with the overlapping symptoms of Covid-19 and flu. Creating coronavirus-free zones in hospitals and care homes so that other patients do not get infected will be as important as any other hygiene measure.
However, the surge of coronavirus cases in winter is more of a "what might happen" rather than "what will happen". Researchers base their assumptions on situations that do not always play out in real life. Slight changes in the parameters and you get very different projections.
The overall message, however, is pretty clear - prepare for the worst and hope for the best.