A second wave of coronavirus may not hit the UK until spring 2021 with a cold winter likely to impose its own ‘mini-quarantine’, a scientist has warned.
A cold snap could keep people indoors and get them to wear ‘natural’ PPE in the form of scarves and gloves, driving down transmission rates.
Coronaviruses, unlike the influenza virus, are also not strictly seasonal – being more likely to peak in the spring than icy winter months.
It comes as the UK recorded 2,988 cases of Covid-19 yesterday, the highest daily increase since May 23 – 15 weeks ago. Deaths remained low, however, with a further two people dying from the disease.
Scientists maintain that Britain is not yet entering a second wave and that it is unlikely to ever see another one like what happened in April and May.
Associate professor at the University of Reading, Ben Neuman, warned a second wave of the virus may not hit until spring 2021
The UK has recorded its highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since May after 2,988 were reported in just 24 hours
ARE VIRUSES STRONGER IN THE WINTER?
Although the coronavirus hasn’t been around long enough for scientists to study whether it changes in the winter, looking at cold and flu viruses – which are most common in colder months – can shed some light on how viruses are more infectious in winter.
Dry, cold air supports viruses
For a virus that causes infection by piggy-backing on droplets of moisture coming out of someone’s airways, like Covid-19, its ability to float in the air is critical for infecting people.
Warmer air is more humid, meaning it has more moisture and droplets in the air bind to the droplets carrying the virus. This makes them bigger and heavier and causes them to fall to the ground faster, where they are significantly less likely to infect someone.
In cold air, which is naturally drier, they can remain lighter and float for longer, meaning they’re more likely to spread disease.
Flu virus gets physically harder
A study in 2008 found that the outer membrane, or shell, of a flu virus actually gets harder in cold weather.
It turns from a more liquid blob in warm weather to a tough, rubbery coating in the winter. This means the virus is stronger and can survive for longer.
There is no evidence the same thing will happen with the coronavirus, because it is a different type of organism – but it is possible.
Human behaviour changes
Viruses can spread more effectively in winter because people spend more time together indoors, where they are forced into closer contact than they would be in the park in summer.
The closer together people are, the more likely they are to spread the virus between them.
People are also more likely to get too little vitamin D in the winter, because they usually make it from exposing their skin to sunlight.
Shorter daylight hours – and cold weather even when the sun is shining – mean people don’t make as much of the vitamin, which is vital fuel for the immune system and helps the body to fight off viral infections.
Studies have found Covid-19 patients with vitamin D deficiencies appear to be more likely to be hospitalised or die than those with enough of the vitamin.
Dr Ben Neuman, an associate professor at the University of Reading, made the predictions and said people should keep an eye out for other sources of the virus.
He said: ‘Instead, look for changes in behaviour that lead to mixing of people from different households, especially where masks would not be worn, as a potential source of Covid-19 – school reopenings, dinner parties and restaurants.’
He added that the percentage rate of positive tests may also become an inaccurate method for measuring Britain’s pandemic.
‘Paradoxically, an influx of people with the flu seeking Covid-19 tests could potentially drive down the percentage of positive tests, which would then misleadingly suggest that Covid-19 was decreasing.
‘That is one reason why per cent positive rates should not be taken in isolation to monitor the pandemic.’
He said there would be far more data this year than any other and that drawing conclusions at this time would be speculative.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the recent surge in coronavirus cases had come a bit earlier than he was expecting.
‘Normally coronaviruses hit in November, December time,’ he said. ‘This has come back sooner than I had anticipated.’
‘There was a report that went out to local authorities basically putting the peak at January. I think that’s probably right. Certainly December-January for the peak (but with fewer deaths).’
On the deaths, he said: ‘They are still pretty much flat-lining but the way the death statistics are reported is very late – so it’s difficult to be sure what’s going on.
‘They are showing a small increase, but are still very low.
‘Looking at what happened in the States you probably don’t start noticing the deaths for about a month after the case numbers have started going up.
‘I think it’s likely that case numbers are going to continue to increase throughout the next few months possibly to numbers of the sort that we saw in March, April – maybe even more – but it’s going to be fewer deaths and fewer hospitalisations mainly because it is now in younger people.’
NHS documents circulated in March suggested that the pandemic may continue until spring 2021, reports The Guardian.
At the time Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: ‘A year is entirely plausible. But that figure isn’t well appreciated or understood.
‘I think it will dip in the summer, towards the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that seasonal flu does. I think it will be around forever, but become less severe over time, as immunity builds up.’
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, said ventilation would play an important role in the spread of the disease and that people needed to continue to wear masks.
‘Anything you do to mitigate Covid-19 as an individual PPE intervention may well be the only thing you can do, because increasing ventilation – opening windows – will work in some situations,’ he said.
‘But a lot of indoor areas, indoor buildings, cannot ramp up ventilation very well with existing systems, and some of the windows are not openable.’
He said that he is part of a network of experts that indicate it may be necessary to open windows, with the heating on.
Speaking about classrooms, Dr Tang said: ‘What they suggest is that you have to turn on the heating with the windows open, which is a terrible waste of energy.
‘But what that does is it creates convective flows that may actually enhance the ventilation in those classrooms.
‘But again, if you’re wearing masks, to some extent this will be helpful, but you have to remove the airborne virus that may be expelled over the hours to actually make those masks work.’
Matt Hancock warned the UK’s rising infection numbers were ‘concerning’ yesterday, and admitted there had been a real terms rise even after taking into account a raised testing capacity.
‘The rise in the number of cases that we have seen today is concerning,’ he said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock called the figures ‘concerning’, and admitted that there had been real terms rise even after taking into account the increase in testing
‘The cases are predominately among younger people but as we have seen in other countries across Europe, this sort of rise in cases among younger people leads to a rise across the population as a whole.’
When asked if another nationwide lockdown was still on the cards, he said: ‘We will take whatever action is necessary.’
The UK’s coronavirus outbreak remains centred in the North West, with Pendle recording the most cases, at 268.8 per 100,000 people, followed by Oldham, with 199.6 per 100,000, and Blackburn with Darwen, at 150.4 per 100,000.
DO STUDIES SHOW SUN CAN KILL THE VIRUS?
It has long been known that UV light has a sterilising effect because the radiation damages the genetic material of viruses and their ability to replicate.
Most viruses – such as SARS-CoV-2 – are covered with a thin membrane that is easily broken apart by UV rays.
A Columbia University study published in Scientific Reports two years ago showed the light can kill more than 95 per cent of pathogens like the coronavirus.
Germicidal UV light is used in hospitals in the US as well as ones run by the NHS in the UK to clean rooms and equipment.
One study by the US National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, found coronavirus coughed into the air could be killed in six minutes by strong sun.
Another, by Harvard University, showed that influenza could survive on surfaces for nearly 24 hours in 43F (6C) dry weather, but died in under an hour in temperatures of 90F (32C).
A University of Oxford study in May also revealed that while the global coronavirus death rate was 0.2 per cent, in the colder northern hemisphere it was 0.3 per cent.
The researchers observed that in Italy, the warmer south was much less impacted than the north.
Despite the growing evidence, the World Health Organization warns that you can catch COVID-19, ‘no matter how sunny or hot the weather is’.
Cases of the deadly virus have been recorded all over the globe, including in West Africa and the Middle-East.
Scientists agree that you are always at risk of catching the virus in the middle of an outbreak because it is indiscriminate and never sleeps.
Conventional germicidal UV light kills microbes but also penetrates the skin, raising the risk of various forms of skin cancer as well as cataracts.