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Warmer climates will slow coronavirus spread, but won’t stop it, new study suggests

A study by two MIT researchers found that the coronavirus is less effective in warmer temperatures, but warned that there could still be an outbreak in such regions.

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New Delhi: Communities living in relatively warmer areas may have a “comparative advantage” to others in slowing the transmission of coronavirus, an analysis by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) indicates.

A report in The New York Times maintains that the MIT researchers — Qasim Bukhari and Yusuf Jameel — found most coronavirus transmissions to have occurred in areas with lower temperatures, ranging from 3 to 17 degrees Celsius.

However, the study, which was published on 17 March, argues that though warmer temperatures may slow the transmission rate of the epidemic, it doesn’t mean there won’t be an outbreak.

Also read: How to read news like a scientist during coronavirus information overload

Hot versus cooler climates

While countries in the Southern Hemisphere currently experiencing summer have reported coronavirus cases, regions with average temperatures over 18 degrees Celsius have accounted for less than 6 per cent of global cases.

Dr Qasim Bukhari said, “Wherever the temperatures were colder, the number of the cases started increasing quickly.”

“You see this in Europe, even though the health care there is among the world’s best,” Dr Bukhari added.

The dependency of the coronavirus outbreak on temperature can be witnessed in the United States. Southern states such as Arizona, Florida and Texas have seen a slower outbreak growth in comparison to Washington, New York and Colorado (states with relatively lower temperatures).

Dr Bukhari clarified that “warmer temperatures may make this virus less effective, but less effective transmission does not mean that there is no transmission”.

“We will need to take strong precautions,” he said.

Also read: Why India will be more vulnerable if there is a coronavirus outbreak

What other studies say

Other studies have concluded similar patterns of the coronavirus outbreak. An analysis by Miguel B. Araujo and Babak Naimi, researchers from Spain and Finland respectively, concluded that the outbreak was “constrained” by climate. The study revealed that the virus found a “niche” in dry conditions and temperatures between -2 and 10 degrees Celsius.

Another study by Chinese researchers Jingyuan Wang, Ke Tang, Kai Feng and Weifeng Lv concluded that even before the Chinese establishment imposed rigorous containment measures, cities with higher temperatures and higher humidity witnessed a slower rate of infection transmission early in the outbreak of coronavirus.

None of these studies have been peer-reviewed by other scientists though.

Moreover, Dr. Bukhari revealed that factors such as social distancing measures, availability of testing kits, travel restrictions, and capacity of health facilities may have affected the number of cases in different countries.

Also read: Evidence emerging coronavirus could slow by summer with warmer temperature, humidity

No complacency

Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director at the Pan American Health Organisation, says that it will take another four to six weeks for health officials to have a clearer idea on whether climate patterns affect the outbreak of the coronavirus or not. The New York Times report suggests that local transmission cases across the globe indicate that the virus may be more resilient to warmer temperatures than other flu or respiratory virus outbreaks in the past.

Julio Frenk, president of the University of Miami, said, “One of the big perils in assuming that the virus is less dangerous in warmer temperatures, among particular ages or for any specific group, is complacency”.

“If people fail to heed the warnings and recommendations of public health professionals, the results will be disastrous,” Frenk added.

Dr Bukhari also pointed at the fact that high humidity and heat perfectly align during July and August.

“This suggests that even if the spread of the coronavirus decreases at higher humidity, its effect would be limited for regions above 40 degrees North, which includes most of the Europe and North America,” Dr Bukhari cautioned.

Also read: Why even America isn’t testing everyone for coronavirus. Because, it isn’t needed


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