By ITV News Central Trainee Ellie Rose-Griffiths
The cost of living crisis could "compound the severity of Covid" this winter and put more pressure on the NHS, a virologist from the University of Warwick has warned.
Professor Lawrence Young stressed his concern over the rising spread of the virus, particularly among the elderly and the vulnerable - as the cost of living crisis continues to grapple the UK.
He warned we "could be in for a very severe period of Covid infection over the next few months".
The combination of decaying immunity, suppressed immune functioning as a result of the cost of living crisis and insufficient public messaging to keep people safe from the virus are exacerbating the problem, he said.
In the East Midlands, 253 cases of Covid were recorded on September 10.
Just a month later, that number has more than doubled to 641, according to the most recent data by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
And in the West Midlands, the stats are similar, as 320 cases of Covid were recorded on September 10 - and now that number has increased to 654.
"A perfect storm with a number of different contributing factors to the increased number of Covid infections", Professor Young tells ITV News
Professor Young explained a number of factors are contributing to the rising number of Covid cases as we head into the winter months.
He explained that the cost of living crisis could indirectly increase the severity of the virus on the body.
He warned if people cannot afford to put their heating on or eat a nutritious diet over the winter, the immune system will inevitably be compromised.
The increasing severity of Covid symptoms as a result of a compromised immune system could mean that more people end up in hospital, placing even more pressure on the NHS.
He said: "We know that peoples' immune systems will be compromised if they're not eating healthily, if they're in cold and damp conditions, and getting an infection that will spread onto your chest and cause lung problems is more likely.
"It could easily compound the severity of Covid, and again that could put enormous pressure on the NHS - let alone the impact that it has on the individual and their healthy living.
"It's important that given the concerns we have over heating and eating over these next few months, these are all going to make these respiratory infections worse and it's going to put additional pressure on the NHS."
Professor Young described the situation as "a perfect storm with a number of different factors contributing to the increased number of Covid infections".
One of the more significant contributors is the decaying immunity that we are currently experiencing in society.
Despite more than 151 million doses of Covid vaccinations having been administered across the UK, immunity to the virus is now waning.
The virologist stressed the need for those eligible to have their booster jabs, however he recognised the barrier people may face with the number of vaccination centres across the country having significantly declined.
Just over a year ago, pop-up vaccination centres in places such as football clubs and town halls were being used to roll-out the jabs, but today the vast majority of these centres cease to exist.
Professor Lawrence explains how the cost of living crisis could exacerbate Covid severity:
In a new letter to the leader, experts from across the health sector called for "urgent action" to address the "considerable" pressure already felt by frontline services - describing the NHS as being in "the most challenging state it has been in for decades.”
Health leaders have predicted that the coming winter will be the “busiest on record” for the service, which is recording plummeting public satisfaction levels as frustrated patients struggle to be seen.
Virologist calls for public messaging to remind public that "Covid hasn't gone away":
Professor Young is calling for public messaging surrounding Covid precautions to be reintroduced over the winter months, explaining that the public needs to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and those around them.
Throughout recent months, the cost of living crisis has dominated the headlines with widespread concern over the affordability of living on a daily basis.
However, during this time, "Covid has not gone away".
The virologist says public messaging should continue to stress the importance of protecting ourselves and others against the virus during this time of crisis.
He said: "The type of precautions that we are used to, the precautions that seem to have gone out of the window in recent months, may need to return."
Public Health and Mental Health Minister Dr Caroline Johnson said in a statement: “It is fantastic that over five million eligible people have already received their Covid booster, thanks to the hardworking NHS staff and volunteers helping get jabs in arms and boosting immunity.
“With winter approaching and Covid cases continuing to rise, it is crucial that everyone who’s eligible gets both their booster and flu jabs as soon as they can so they and their loved ones are protected.”