Lyonchhen urges compliance with public health measures as second wave surprise Europe

Younten Tshedup 

Winter is coming and along with it, all sets of new challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. Increasing studies are now showing a surge in the number of cases worldwide as the weather slowly begins to change.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in an address to the nation on Sunday, said that what was assumed a few months ago was now becoming a reality. Europe and America are struggling with the second wave of the pandemic, he said in the televised address.

Lyonchhen said cases of seasonal influenza (flu) are known to increase during cold weather as the reproduction rate of the virus peaks. “Scientifically, during winter, as people choose to stay indoors, the virus is spread from one individual to another.”

With flu-like symptoms, the infection rate and spread of Covid-19 could also increase during the winter, Lyonchhen said. “With emerging new cases, health facilities are getting overwhelmed. The situation is worse than it was during the summer.”

Last month, the number of cases reported in Europe was almost three times higher than during the first peak in March. Although the number of deaths reported in Europe was much lower than in March, hospitalisations were increasing and many cities reported they would reach their intensive care bed capacity in the following weeks.

Experts say that viruses like the influenza are seasonal, which means they spread more during certain times of the year. It’s not that these viruses are more suited to the cold winter, but because the conditions (man-made) help the viruses in spreading. As people gather indoors with heating systems and no or poor ventilation, it creates a perfect platform for the virus to multiply and spread. The heating dries out the mucous membrane of the nasal passages, making it easier for the virus to attach and lack of ventilation allows the virus to stick around for a long time.

Studies say that seasonal trends in viral infection are driven by multiple factors, including people’s behaviour and the properties of the virus. Laboratory experiments reveal that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 favours cold, dry conditions, particularly out of direct sunlight.

According to a report by Peter Gajdos of the University of Pennsylvania, with colder weather and Covid-19 fatigue setting in, cases are surging rapidly in most countries across the northern hemisphere.

He states, in the report, that increased cases from the second wave of the pandemic hitting countries in the northern hemisphere could be because of the weather.

He explains that every decrease of 1 degree Celsius (1.8°F) in temperature represents a 3 percent increase in Covid-19 virus transmissibility. Other studies also show similar results. An analysis of 17 studies determined that virus transmission decreases with increased temperature and humidity and vice versa.


The second wave is here  

Several studies also show that SARS-CoV-2 is mutating. This means the virus’ genome is changing. The genome is a set of genetic instructions that contain all the information that the virus needs to function.

A mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2, originating from farmworkers in Spain, is suspected to be behind the second wave of Covid-19 infections in Europe.

A study by the University of Basel, Switzerland, and University of Valencia in Spain, has found that a variant of SARS-CoV-2 emerged in early summer of 2020, presumably in Spain, and has since spread to multiple European countries.

The study states that by October, the variant had been identified in 12 countries across Europe, as well as in Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo in an earlier interview with Kuensel said that a second wave, should it come, in general, could come in either of the two phases – when the virus mutates and starts re-infecting the population or when lockdowns and restrictions are lifted too far and rapidly.

Lyonchhen said that because very little was known about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it was difficult for scientists to come up with an effective vaccine at the earliest. The genetic mutation of the Covid-19 virus comes as a big concern, he added.

“His Majesty The King is really concerned with the new developments around the pandemic and given all our limitations, we must be extra careful to protect ourselves.”

There are over 46 million (M) confirmed cases in the world today with 1.2M deaths. Lyonchhen said that experts have projected that over 30M more would be infected in the following months from the virus including 1M plus deaths.

“Public should know this and more importantly prepare to protect themselves and others. If the cases are not controlled and complacency sets in, we too would see deaths from the disease.”

Lyonchhen urged people to practise public health measures such as hand washing, wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing, effectively.