Tropical weather's effect on coronavirus undecided

A leading New Zealand virologist Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris has said the jury is still out on whether humid climates could slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Last week, scientists from the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine reported the virus may be less potent and result in fewer deaths in tropical, more humid places based on the globally reported cases.

But Dr. Petousis-Harris from the University of Auckland said with exceptions like Singapore, it is too soon to draw firm conclusions.

“With regard to [the virus also known as] COVID-19 being happier in certain temperatures and humidity, the scientific jury is still out on this,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“Experience with other similar viruses suggests it is possible that COVID-19 might be sensitive to climate, but the consensus is that we do not yet have enough information about it. 

“For now I would assume Samoa just as vulnerable [as anywhere else] and hope it is not.”

In the Maryland study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, the scientists draw similarities between other coronaviruses and the new COVID-19, which were more sensitive to higher temperatures. 

They predict the virus’ spread will slow in the outbreak epicentres like China, Iran and Italy as the seasons warm.

“Based on what we have documented so far, it appears that the virus has a harder time spreading between people in warmer climates,” said Mohammad Sajadi, an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Virology.

“Although it would be even more difficult to make a long-term prediction at this stage, it is tempting to expect COVID-19 to diminish considerably in affected areas [within the temperate regions] in the coming months,” the report said.

Professor Nick Wilson, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago said while seasonal changes will influence the virus, Samoa should still assume it will spread rapidly if it gets on the island.

He said Samoa’s decision to close its borders completely will help put this off as long as possible.

“It is quite likely (but not certain) that this new coronavirus will be influenced by seasons and climatic conditions,” he said in an email.

“Winter conditions are known to accelerate transmission of influenza and also the other coronaviruses which cause common cold like symptoms. 

“But because no one (in unexposed places like Samoa) has any immunity to this new virus we have to assume it will spread rapidly if it is introduced, and that seasonal and weather conditions will not be decisive factors.

“If [strong border controls] fail then Samoa should be prepared to try strong measures (such as everyone staying at home for a few weeks) so that it can be quickly wiped out. Otherwise it is possible that thousands of people could die.”

Another study by Harvard Medical School scientists found temperature will not always slow or stop the virus from spreading, when they examined different numbers of COVID-19 across provinces in China.

“We […] find that changes in weather alone (i.e., increase of temperature and humidity as spring and summer months arrive in the North Hemisphere) will not necessarily lead to declines in COVID-19 case counts without the implementation of extensive public health interventions,” the study abstract states.

Protect yourself and your loved ones against the spread of COVID-19 by staying isolated and physically distant from others. Wash your hands for 20 seconds at least with soap and clean water after handling food, chores or touching animals. Do not touch your face, and sanitise frequently touched surfaces often.

A coronavirus call centre has been established to take calls from the public. The numbers are: Toll Free number 800 6440, and 21183, 21176, 21173, 22914, 22241 and 24402.

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