This winter is more likely to present the biggest challenge of dealing with the covid 19 pandemic and the unprecedented challenge of the flu season. The winter season brings even more challenges for households that cannot afford to adequately heat their homes, which exposes them to more health risks. In recent years, inequalities regarding the affordability of heating costs have increased. That presents a massive difference between the number of people who can heat their homes during winter and those who cannot.
According to Karl Scranz, in most European countries, the poorest people are four to five times more exposed to the risks of cold homes than the affluent people. That leads to fuel poverty, which brings about unsustainable fuel choices and pollution. The use of unsustainable fuel resources for heating needs and cooking is also unequally distributed, primarily in rural areas with more low-income earners. Such unsustainable solid fuels can have long term effects and increase the risks of premature death due to the daily exposure to carbon monoxide and acute poisoning from the particulate matter of the burned materials. According to WHO, the disease burden due to indoor air pollution in the European region caused 55000 premature deaths in 2016.
Covid 19 Effects Are More Likely to Affect the Poor and Vulnerable Groups.
Due to the covid 19 pandemic, the discussion on accessibility to clean air and sustainable indoor heating is of utmost importance. Since the pandemic is still with us, households need to anticipate possible movement restrictions, working from home, and homeschooling. This increases the time spent at home, increasing the impact of potential indoor pollution and low indoor temperatures, which means that low-income families are more affected.
Extended presence indoors in inadequately ventilated spaces and crowded apartments further increase community transmission of covid 19. Such transmission patterns increase the need for well-ventilated rooms during the winter even though households keep their houses sealed to trap heat and reduce energy consumption. This becomes more necessary in extended families living in little spaces as the risk for transmission is high due to a lack of social distancing. Crowding in living spaces is a big concern for low-income families. There is a higher possibility that the poor are heading for a winter of discontent amidst the covid 19 pandemic.
What Can We Do to Correct the Situation?
The only thing we can do is to practice the safety measures on an individual level. Continue wearing masks in public places, sanitize or wash hands more often and keeping a safe distance from other people. These measures remain the only way to break the transmission chain, especially during the winter, which is the flu season, to protect our households. Adequate indoor ventilation is also essential during this season.
The other thing is for governments to reduce such risks for the poor and vulnerable groups by providing affordable and enough energy supply and implementing support plans for those who cannot afford heat. Another important thing is to increase awareness of the distribution of housing challenges related to crowding, thermal comfort, and energy use.
Authorities and individuals can collaborate and plan ahead to minimize healthcare systems’ burden during the winter season, especially now that they have been overwhelmed by the covid 19 patients.