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Thoughts Winter Bring To Mind About Coronavirus While there are chances that the virus may spread faster during colder months, measures such as wearing masks and physical distancing will remain the key

By Prabhjeet Bhatla

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Health experts warned on September 30, 2020, that with COVID-19 set to enter its eleventh month in India after the country reported its first confirmed case in Kerala on January 30, there is a likelihood of increased transmission of the novel coronavirus virus during the winter months, according to a report by newswire agency IANS.

The novel coronavirus that has navigated through winter, spring, summer, monsoon, and now creating chaos in autumn, has proven to be an all-season virus that is currently scattering swiftly in India.

"Based on our knowledge of other respiratory viruses, it may be possible that the coronavirus infections might rise in the coming winter months," stated Fortis Hospital pulmonology consultant Dr. Richa Sareen, in the IANS report.

"Most respiratory illnesses like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), influenza, among others show a seasonal variation, with cases spiking in winter months. Viruses tend to survive longer in a cold and dry climate," she explained.

Moreover, low humidity supports the evaporation of viral elements and aerosol formations, which can add to the airborne spread of disease.

Lack of sunshine in winters also drains Vitamin D levels, thus diminishing immunity, making us more vulnerable to infections, including COVID-19, according to Sareen,

"The effect of winters on COVID-19 surge is yet to be seen, however wearing a proper mask, following hand hygiene and social distancing are the mainstay to prevent COVID-19 infection till a vaccine arrives," she stressed.

The mitigations for the resurgence of COVID-19 this winter will need to be substantially different from those used for the first wave of infection in spring 2020.

Cases of COVID-19 have been extensively reported since December 2019. This disease is spreading worldwide rapidly, posing great challenges not only to human health but also to social-economic development.

The possible impact of a revival of COVID-19 resulted in the disturbance to health and social care delivery, a significant backlog of COVID-19 and non-COVID care, and a probable influenza epidemic on the ability of the health and social care systems to cope this winter.

During the early phase of the coronavirus pandemic, scientists considered that warm summer air would dampen its spread.

Then as the virus multiplied swiftly around the world, racking up more than 27 million cases in the spring and summer, the recurrent impact mainly fell out of the public conversation.

But researchers at the Johns Hopkins University are coming out with new research that suggests rising temperatures do moderate the spread of the virus and a big new wave of cases could be coming with the cooler fall air.

"In the fall and colder months, we are going to hit a headwind in the other direction, and that will take control much more difficult," said Dr. Adam Kaplin, assistant Hopkins professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the lead researcher, in a report in The Baltimore Sun.

The warm weather served as a tailwind for those efforts, he said.

India as well as other countries have been easing restrictions with a drop in cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But Kaplin said cases could spike with more virus-friendly cool air even with the same restrictions.

A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the Maryland researchers found, for example, the virus acted in a way "consistent with the behavior of a seasonal respiratory virus", spreading along with temperature and humidity levels.

However, Rachel Baker from the Princeton Environmental Institute played down how much the weather was a factor, instead of pointing to the importance of other measures such as wearing masks and physical distancing, according to The Baltimore Sun report.

"I think it is possible that upcoming wintertime conditions could increase transmission, particularly in locations with more severe winters," Baker further said in the interview. "However, if we have effective control measures in place, we should be able to limit large secondary outbreaks."

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme, is even less sure there would be a visible impact from temperature changes.

"This virus has demonstrated no seasonal pattern as such so far," Ryan said during an August 10 news conference.

But other studies have raised concerns that a cold winter will lead to more cases if steps are not taken now to cram down cases and keep them low.

As per his interview in the newspaper, Kaplin at Hopkins agreed that measures taken now will matter.

"We did not prove cases will increase over winter; we will have to wait till after winter to see for sure," he said. "But we have enough information that with the temperature going down, yes, if we take no other steps, there will be more cases."

Prabhjeet Bhatla

Former Staff

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