There are fears of a winter Covid surge later this year
The past few weeks have seen a surge in Covid cases while infection hotspots have emerged in certain neighbourhoods across the West Midlands. The number of new cases prompted the NHS to urge those eligible for a spring booster to come forward and get the jab while plans are also in place for an autumn booster.
It’s a reminder that the pandemic still isn’t over yet and that Coronavirus is still with us today, despite first hitting the UK at the start of 2020. However, unlike two years ago, it is now regarded as being under control, thanks to the vaccine programme.
Despite the success the vaccinations have had, Covid continues to lurk in the background of our everyday lives and there are concerns a surge could leave the NHS struggling this winter. Dr Tara Hurst, a lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at Birmingham City University, is one of several scientists in the Midlands who are studying Covid and what the future of the pandemic could be.
Here’s what she had to say about what this winter could bring – and what the future could hold beyond the end of 2022.
1) A winter surge is likely – and could be particularly concerning this year
As the recent rise in cases show, there is still a risk of a Covid surge as new variants emerge. Dr Hurst says another surge this winter is likely, based on what happened in 2020 and 2021.
“It’s quite likely there’ll be another surge,” she said. “People come together for Christmas and other religious parties, it’s just that time of the year. It’s all indoors too because of the weather.”
She continued: “You’re always going to see new variants – whether they are one of concern is up to chance.”
Dr Hurst added that Covid circulating along with flu and other viruses could prove particularly worrying this year as there may be no social restrictions in place in the build-up to Christmas, as opposed to the first two years of the pandemic. With this in mind, she urged those who fall ill to take sensible measures.
“If you’re ill, don’t be a hero,” she said. “Stay a home if you can. If you have a cold and have flexible working, take that option and work from home.”
2) The virus will likely not go away for some time yet
The recent surge in cases and emergence of Covid hotspots in the West Midlands shows that Covid may exist alongside us for some time yet. Dr Hurst says the likely future of Covid is that it will keep evolving and we will likely have to live with it in the background of our lives.
“The virus is going to mutate regularly,” she said. “In the future, it could disappear I suppose but I don’t know of a virus which has done that.”
3) More vaccines may be needed
A spring booster jab has already been offered this year to people most at risk when it comes to Covid while an autumn booster will soon be rolled out to all adults aged 50 years and over.
Other vulnerable groups will also receive the jab, including those aged 16 to 49 years who are carers and frontline health and social care workers. On whether others will have to keep receiving vaccinations, Dr Hurst said it’s a ‘likely scenario’ that new versions of the vaccine may have to be developed to tackle new variants as and when they spring up.
“The future of the virus is that it’s going to mutate,” she said. She added that ‘diversifying’ the vaccine to stop the spread of concerning new variants would have to be balanced against the economic impacts that would cause.
4) People may take their health into their own hands more
If Covid cases surge dramatically in the winter, it remains to be seen whether the government will be back certain measures, such as mask wearing, to stop the spread of the virus. Regardless of whether that happens, Dr Hurst says more people may have to change their behavior in order to avoid falling ill during the festive period.
“There’s lots people can do to protect their health,” she said. “Stress is a huge factor, as high levels of stress can have a negative impact on the immune system.
“Monitoring your exercise and sleeping levels really help too. No-one likes wearing a mask but I do think it makes a huge difference.”
She adds avoiding large crowds and not getting too close to strangers will also help you avoid you falling prey to Covid – and could be behaviour that some people revert back to during the winter.
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