Sorry, warm weather won’t save from coronavirus — Infectious diseases experts

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Researchers and infectious diseases experts across the world have warned that unless humans imbibe sound health practices, and until policymakers make level-headed policies, the spread of coronavirus will continue.

The health experts spoke as they expressed different opinion on whether or not warm weather could stem the spread of coronavirus or kill the virus altogether.

It may be recalled that President Donald Trump, during a meeting with American state governors at the White House in February, had said, “The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus;” and that “it would be gone by April.”

The latest death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has risen to 5,764 spread across 137 countries and territories, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.

The worst affected countries in terms of fatalities are mainland China, with 3,189 deaths, Italy with 1,441 deaths, 611 in Iran and 183 in Spain.

Speaking on the expectation that warm weather could paralyse coronavirus, a Honorary Senior Lecturer in Virology and President of Research-Aid Networks at the University of Kent, Dr. Jeremy Rossman, warned that, contrary to what many people like to believe about coronavirus, warm weather is not likely to kill it.

Rossman, a virologist, said the assumption was based on the comparison of coronavirus with flu.

He made his opinion known in The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers.

The researcher said, “In many ways COVID-19 is like the flu – both spread in similar ways (respiratory secretions and contaminated surfaces) and both cause typically mild respiratory diseases that can develop into life-threatening pneumonia. But the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19 are much greater than the flu. And it isn’t clear if COVID-19 transmission will be affected by seasonal temperature variation.”

Health Expert at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Nancy Messionnier, warned against assuming the number of cases will slow as the weather warms.

“I think it’s premature to assume that. We haven’t been through even a single year with this pathogen,” she warned.

This agrees with the submission of Professor of Pathology at the University of Hong Kong, Dr. John Nicholls, who said, “Because COVID-19 is so new, there is no natural immunity in the population and thus, all bets are off.”

Again, Harvard epidemiologist, Marc Lipsitch, warns that warmer weather “is not enough to slow transmission enough to make a big dent.”

He added, “New viruses have a temporary but important advantage — few or no individuals in the population are immune to them,” as is the case with the new coronavirus pandemic.

This is contrary to the opinion of an epidemiology expert at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Stefan Baral, who was quoted by the Boston Herald as saying he expects “a natural decrease” of the disease as America moves into warmer weather.

Nicholls, said there were three things coronavirus does not like — sunlight, temperature and humidity.

“Sunlight will cut the virus’s ability to grow in half, so the half-life will be 2.5 minutes, and in the dark it’s about 13 to 20 minutes. Sunlight is really good at killing viruses,” Nicholls said.

His view is corroborated by a virologist at Germany’s Centre for Experimental and Clinical Infection Research, Thomas Pietschmann.

Pietschmann said the coronavirus is “not very heat-resistant, which means that the virus quickly breaks down when temperatures rise.”

Rossman, however, maintained that it is not clear what effect temperature and humidity have on the coronavirus itself, nor on its transmission; noting, “It is highly unlikely that the weather itself will end this growing epidemic.”

Meanwhile, disease experts, in a publication in peer-reviewed Journal of Hospital Infection, note that coronavirus causes severe respiratory tract infections in humans, and that human-to-human transmissions have been described, with incubation times between two and 10 days, facilitating its spread via droplets, contaminated hands or surfaces.

The researchers were led by G. Kampf, of the University Medicine Greifswald, Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine, Germany.

They advised that endemic human coronaviruses can persist on inanimate surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days, but can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures.

“As no specific therapies are available for SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus), early containment and prevention of further spread will be crucial to stop the ongoing outbreak and to control this novel infectious thread,” the German researchers said.

This is in agreement with the view of the director of the Global Health Programme at the Washington D.C.-based Council on Foreign Relations, Thomas Bollyky.

Bollyky warned, “Policymakers and health officials should not rely on warmer temperatures to save us from COVID-19.

“The only things that can do that are public health preparedness and level-headed policies to reduce the number of people infected, protect healthcare workers, and improve the diagnosis and treatment of those who do get ill.”

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