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Summer is over: Will winter bring a second wave of COVID-19?

With summer now over, we are forced to consider what the upcoming winter season later this year will be like, as it would be the world's first spent under the reign of terror of the novel coronavirus.

For countries in the Northern Hemisphere, summer ends this week Plenty of reports still provide conflicting data regarding the effects of the summer heat in slowing down transmission rates Regardless, even with summer barely over, we are already seeing a second wave of infections in Europe

For countries in the Northern Hemisphere, summer ends this week. Without a doubt, it’s been a summer like no other, one spent mostly away from the sun and the beach and mostly at home in lockdown – self-imposed or otherwise. 

Thanks to a pandemic that has devastated economies, cost endless individuals their jobs, and resulted in the deaths of nearly one million people, we have become accustomed to living in constant uncertainty. Every waking hour has become an absolute mystery: Will the predicted second wave strike tomorrow? Next week? Next month? In Autumn? Winter? Will my company keep me onboard amid falling sales? Will I catch the coronavirus the next time I go out to buy groceries? Will a family member bring it home with them?

When you’re fighting an invisible threat that is one cough away from ruining your life, it’s only natural to live in constant stress. 

Speaking of a second wave, we are already seeing the first signs of such a surge striking in Europe. 

As per CNN, “daily case numbers in the European Union and United Kingdom [last] week reached record highs of more than 45,000 on a 14-day notification rate, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and new restrictions are being imposed in places that were well into reopening.”

The cause of the second waveCases in Europe/EEA and the UK began increasing around the end of July and start of August. Graph: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

Back in spring, at the height of infection cases, some reports emerged stating that the summer heat and humidity would slow down the transmission of COVID-19. However, the data was often contested, and even those supporting the theory believed that a simple summer would not be enough to slow down the spread of the virus, especially if social distancing measures and practices like mask-wearing were not upheld. 

According to some studies, it was found that the summer climate would modestly decrease transmission rates. Even then, researchers cautioned heavily against letting our guard down and emphasized following prevention measures. After all, research aside, in countries like Kuwait and Oman, where temperatures soar to over 40 degrees Celsius on a daily basis during the average summer, we continue to see a steady stream of confirmed cases daily. While cases might have slowed down a bit as more and more businesses and organizations began enforcing social distancing measures, the weather had little effect on confirmed cases.  

Graph: Google

In Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has suggested the recent surge in infection rates could partly be down to the relaxation of measures and people dropping their guard, and evidence indicates young people are driving the second surge in Europe, as per CNN.

Indeed, despite the ongoing pandemic, loosening restrictions meant that many people looking forward to the summer break headed off for vacation during this period, regardless of government guidance. Now, we are seeing the aftermath of such a decision.

What a second wave will be like, and what we need to do

With Europe now experiencing the start of what looks like the second of the coronavirus, we have to assume the worst.

“A second wave would be similar to what we experienced in the spring of 2020, but it could be harder to control in the fall, when people are tired of social distancing, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told the American Medical Association in May,” as per CNBC

Additionally, the colder weather leads to more people huddling together at home, cafes, and restaurants for warmth and protection from the elements, which will likely create a breeding ground for COVID as it usually would for flu. After all, there is a reason the influenza virus infects more people in winter when we are likely to spend more time indoors.

Just like with the first wave, simple but effective preventative measures like social distancing and mask-wearing will need to be practiced, which were clearly shown to be effective in infection avoidance when properly adhered to. The worst thing we can do right now is let our guard down.