As the coronavirus — which originated in China — shifts increasingly westward toward the Middle East, Europe and the United States, there is chatter that the upcoming warmer months may have an impact on slowing down the virus.
US President Donald Trump, during a rally on Feb 10, suggested that by April, the coronavirus problem would solve itself. “You know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away, that’s true.”
He also tweeted about it, saying: "...as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker."
But is there any truth to this theory? Here's what experts say:
Viruses that cause influenza or milder coronavirus colds do tend to subside in warmer months because these types of viruses have what scientists refer to as “seasonality”, says National Geographic in an article.
But it’s highly uncertain that the new virus will behave the same way, it adds.
“I hope it will show seasonality, but it’s hard to know,” says Stuart Weston, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where the virus is being actively studied.
TIME, in its report, spoke to health experts who agreed that it’s too early to say if warmer weather will impact the virus’s spread.
Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, was quoted as saying there will likely be many factors that determine when and how the outbreak ends. “Rate of virus spread, effectiveness of infection control practices, weather and human immunity will likely all play a role in determining its future.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in United States on its website wrote that it is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19.
"Some other viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months but that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months," says the institute.
"At this time, it is not known whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease when weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing."
CNN in its report quoted Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, as saying: "It would be reckless to assume that things will quiet down in spring and summer."
"We don't really understand the basis of seasonality, and of course we know we absolutely nothing about this particular virus," Hotez adds.
The publication also noted that what makes some strains of viruses seasonal isn't yet clear to scientists.
Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, according to the National Geographic article, doesn’t think any weather changes will put a big dent in how the virus spreads. "COVID-19 has now been documented around the world. If the virus is anything like a typical flu virus, it may worsen in Southern Hemisphere regions as the seasons change."
David Heymann from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says not enough is known about this new virus to predict how it will change with different weather conditions.
“The risk of making predictions without an evidence base is that they could, if they prove to be wrong, be taken as verity and give a false security,” Heymann told National Geographic.
“The emphasis today should continue to be on containment to elimination where possible.”
Experts warn that even if COVID-19 becomes less active in the summer, it could return if public health officials do not gain control of the outbreak first, says the TIME report.
“If we continue to see sustained transmission in multiple countries, it will be very difficult to eradicate the virus,” says Charles Chiu, a professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There is a risk that it may end up becoming a seasonal virus without global concerted public health interventions to prevent spread.”