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COVID19: Health experts fear winter spike

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As Cyprus moves closer to a change in the weather, experts are concerned over the coexistence of coronavirus and the flu, which could prove a deadly combination.

The influenza virus and coronavirus, which are both aggressive viruses in winter, could result in more lives being lost as the symptoms are similar.

The Scientific Team advising the government on the coronavirus advise the elderly, pregnant women, young children and those working in the health sector to get a seasonal flu jab.

Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nicosia, Peter Karayiannis explained that while vaccinating against the flu and other seasonal viruses, does not protect people from coronavirus, it will, however, protect them from contracting both viruses at the same time.

“Contracting the seasonal flu and the coronavirus at the same time could put significant strain on a human body, which could lead to death,” warned Karayiannis.

“For the flu, we can get the vaccine, which has been used for years and we can at least protect ourselves against the flu virus.

In Cyprus, the flu virus afflicts us from the end of November until February.”

He stressed that the use of a mask indoors and in places where there is a gathering can also protect against the flu, coronavirus and all the viruses that cause the common cold.

Karayiannis argued that there is no room for complacency, stressing that despite having a good epidemiological picture, things in Cyprus could easily take a turn for the worse.

There are no indications so far about what will happen in the coming months.

“At the moment no one can predict what will happen in the winter months but looking at what is happening around us one understands how the situation can be derailed very quickly.”

Recent cases show clusters have been growing in the community.

“It is quite alarming to see that the latest cases are from clusters formed by members of the same families.

This can easily get out of hand if measures are not taken and these clusters detected on time,” said Karayiannis.

“Right now, there is a cluster of 16 people, proving that the virus is in the community and we should be careful, implement the measures and especially not relax now that most have returned to work, returned to schools and universities.”

The advisor to the government on the coronavirus outbreak argued that what health authorities need to do is focus on testing to monitor the situation.

“I think the Health Ministry is on the right path, as they are pushing to increase testing with the introduction of another 20,000 tests for schools and universities,” said Karayiannis.

Quicker results needed

He believes testing in schools is important, recalling that France had closed some 60 schools just days after students had returned to their classroom due to the high number of cases recorded among the student community.

Asked about Cyprus’ capacity to test a larger percentage of the population, the virologist argued that at the moment there is no need for widespread testing as the situation is currently under control.

“What we could do with, is faster tests returning results in less than a few hours, compared to the 24 hours needed.”

Expert on infectious diseases and Health Ministry advisor Dr Maria Koliou told the Financial Mirror that authorities are concerned over the possibility of children coming down with both a seasonal virus and COVID-19 at the same time.

“This year the National Committee for Vaccinations is calling on parents to have all children under the age of 15 vaccinated for the seasonal flu, to prevent a child from coming down with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time,” said Dr Koliou.

She said this will also help schools to function more smoothly.

“Symptoms of the coronavirus and other seasonal viruses like the flu are similar, with a lot of kids coming down with a seasonal virus.

This means that schools will have to deal with sick kids without knowing what the problem actually is”.

Asked about school protocols when a student has a fever or other COVID-like symptoms, Koliou said that according to protocol the child is isolated from the rest of the class and their parents are called in to pick up the child.

“Parents should then take the child to the doctor who will decide if a COVID-19 test is warranted. In case the child undergoes a test, their close contacts, pupils seating near them in class will have to self-isolate until the results are out,” said Dr Koliou.

She said in no case will the whole class be called to self-isolate and medical staff visit regularly schools and are on standby to assist educators should there be a need to.

The opening of schools this week coincided with a period when Cyprus has suppressed the virus, allowing for a smoother start to the new school year.