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Warm, shut homes could be a problem: Here is what AIIMS director fears about winters and COVID

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Srinagar: Even as Jammu and Kashmir has seen a slight dip in the number of COVID-19 cases it records each day, experts suggest that it is highly likely that the upcoming winters will see a fresh wave of the pandemic.

On Saturday, J&K reported 635 new cases of coronavirus pushing the overall number of reported cases to 83,064. The death toll stands at 1315 with seven more people dying due to the virus during the day.

Dr Randeep Guleria, the AIIMS Director, talked in detail about the impact changing seasons could have on COVID-19 across India and warned that places experiencing colder temperatures like Kashmir may see a spike in the number of cases.

“Data suggests that respiratory infections tend to become more prevalent during winters not just in India but in Europe and data for America as well especially in places which are colder than India,” Dr Guleria said in an interview to a Indian news channel.

Therefore, he said, it is likely that there could be an increase in the number of COVID cases.

The AIIMS director gave two reasons why a new wave of COVID-19 may be seen in India and especially in Kashmir, where winters are much colder than most parts of India.

The first reasons he pointed out was that in cold temperature, the virus survives for a longer period in the environment.

“Therefore, there is a higher chance of people getting infected,” he said.

Secondly, Dr Guleria said, during winters people tend to stay indoors rather than outdoors and crowd together.

“As such, we don’t have good cross ventilation because we want to stay warm in their houses and that actually leads to higher chances of infections spreading from one individual to another,” he said.

In Kashmir, as has been commonly observed, people tend to fix polythene sheets on the windows to ensure the houses stay warm during the winters, however, the move can become a trigger for higher cases especially in joint families.

Asked about the downward trend that India is currently witnessing and whether the country has passed the COVID peak, Dr Guleria said: “I certainly hope so and the trend is encouraging but we need to see this downward trend for two week or so before we can be more confident.”

“But we should also be a little vigilant because we are heading for two situations where the cases can come back again. One is the festive season where people will start crowding and going to functions like it could be Dussehra, Durga Puja etc and we must be careful about that,” he said

And secondly, the doctor added, India is heading into winter and a lot of respiratory virus infections tend to see a spike in the cases.

He said that the biggest challenge India has today is how to sustain the decrease in the number of cases.

“This is even though we are testing more but the cases have not dramatically increased. There was a time when we were thinking that we will cross the one lakh mark and go higher than that,” he said.

“We have to do two things to sustain it. One: be aggressive in having a Covid appropriate behaviour among the general population. And second: we should look at hotspots, develop testing, tracking, treating, and containment in areas where the number of cases suddenly rise,” he added.

Last Thursday, a UK based senior pulmonologist of Kashmiri origin, Dr Tasaduk Sultan Khan, too pointed out how winters could aggravate the COVID-19 crisis in Kashmir.

In an interview with The Kashmir Monitor, Dr Khan said that catching flu can potentiate the chances of getting infected with Coronavirus and make it deadlier than it is at present.

He advised that the people should get a flu vaccine at the earliest as there are chances of them being more vulnerable to the disease in the coming weeks and months.

“Well, theoretically flu can potentiate chances of Corona and two together portend a bad prognosis as studies have contemplated that there are 6x chances of dying with this combo than alone. Having said that, these are all speculations and only time will tell,” Dr Khan said.

Incidentally, Dr Khan has been at the forefront and treating Covid-19 cases in the UK right from the outbreak of the pandemic in the country.

“The only care I would suggest is to get your flu jab done as early as possible,” he said.

Asked how the flu shot would help against Covid-19, Dr Khan said: “By making sure that Covid does not get the flu as a co-partner. Make sure we have flu covered by a proven vaccine.”

As expected, the elderly, the doctor said, were more vulnerable.

“Our elderly population should have both flu and pneumococcal vaccine protection. Mask, social distancing and hand washing are equally important,” he said.

Dr Khan said that smokers had more chances of getting infected with the virus. “High time smokers should think about quitting it,” he said.

He also advised the cancer patients to postpone visits to the hospitals if possible and if advised by their doctors.