Onset of northern winter could see spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths

A young man travelling through the Swiss Alps by train during pandemic times.
Unsplash/Neil Bates
A young man travelling through the Swiss Alps by train during pandemic times.

Onset of northern winter could see spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths

Health

Although COVID-19 deaths have decreased across the world, numbers could rise as northern countries head into winter, senior officials from UN health agency WHO have warned. 

Speaking on Wednesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus again beat the drum for vaccination to reduce spread of the disease. 

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He urged people to get the jab or, if they are already vaccinated, to get further boosters. 

Variants still a threat 

“We are now seeing a welcome decline in reported deaths globally. However, with colder weather approaching in the northern hemisphere, it’s reasonable to expect an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in the coming months,” said Tedros, speaking during his regular briefing from Geneva. 

“Subvariants of Omicron are more transmissible than their predecessors, and the risk of even more transmissible and more dangerous variants remains.” 

Vaccination coverage among the most at-risk groups - such as health workers and older persons - also remains too low, he added, especially in poorer countries.  

Don’t pretend it’s over 

Tedros reminded people everywhere to continue to take action to reduce the risk of infection - even if already vaccinated. Steps include avoiding crowds, especially indoors, and wearing a mask. 

“Living with COVID-19 doesn’t mean pretending the pandemic is over. If you go walking in the rain without an umbrella, pretending it’s not raining won’t help you. You’ll still get wet.  Likewise, pretending a deadly virus is not circulating is a huge risk,” he said. 

Worldwide, nearly 600 million cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, some 2.5 years into the pandemic. 

Europe to hit 250-million mark 

Europe is projected to reach 250 million cases in a matter of weeks, said Dr. Hans Kluge, Director of WHO’s Office for the region.  Like Tedros, he also anticipates the winter “surge” in cases. 

“We have made great strides in addressing the pandemic. But the virus is still circulating widely, still putting people in hospital, still causing too many preventable deathssome 3,000 in the past week alone, about a third of the global recorded total,” said Dr. Kluge in a statement on Tuesday. 

A doctor looks at an image of a monkeypox lesion on his computer screen at a sexual health clinic in Lisbon, Portugal.
© WHO/Khaled Mostafa
A doctor looks at an image of a monkeypox lesion on his computer screen at a sexual health clinic in Lisbon, Portugal.

Monkeypox latest 

Europe is also home to around a third of the global caseload for the continuing Monkeypox outbreak, with 22,000 confirmed cases across 43 countries. 

The Americas account for more than half of all reported cases, with several countries continuing to see a rise in infections. 

WHO noted that some European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, are also seeing a clear decline in infections. 

This development demonstrates the effectiveness of public health interventions and community engagement to track infections and prevent transmission, said the agency.