Health

Warmer weather may not control COVID-19 resurgence, warns WMO

Government intervention important in containing the pandemic in 2021 as well, the report says

 
By Kiran Pandey
Published: Wednesday 24 March 2021
Warmer temperatures may not control COVID-19 resurgence. Photo: Vikas Choudhary

The northern Hemisphere comprising is warming, but the trend may not control the resurgence of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a report released March 18, 2021.

Government interventions such as mask mandates and travel restrictions, rather than meteorological factors, influenced the COVID-19 transmission in 2020 and early 2021, it added.

Stringent government interventions along with appropriate social distancing measures by public will be important to contain the resurgence, the report said.

Why India must take note

WMO task team co-chair, Ben Zaitchik, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said:

We saw waves of infection rise in warm seasons and warm regions in the first year of the pandemic, and there is no evidence that this couldn’t happen again in the coming year.

The virus had infected 500 people claimed 12 lives in India as of March 23, 2020.

Thereafter, India went into total shutdown with 30 states comprising 548 districts going under complete lockdown.

It was thought that with summer, the virus would be contained with warmer temperature, but the number of cases continued to rise exponentially. Nearly a year later, the country recorded a drastic fall in new cases.

But the country since Fbruary 2021 started seeing a sharp upward curve in new COVID-19 cases. With 35,886 new COVID-19 infections, India recorded the highest case count in 102 days as of March 17, 2021, according to data provided by the Union Ministry of Health.

The Union government has attributed this to the complacency of the general population as well as virus mutations; WMO, too, has flagged similar concerns in its report.

The recent upsurge seen in African has also been attributed to reduced adherence to public health and social measures.

Weather and climate conditions, including the onset of higher temperatures in the northern hemisphere spring, should not be used as a trigger to relax measures, the report prepared by a 16-member panel of experts said.

COVID-19 could be seasonal

Respiratory viral infections like influenza and cold-causing coronaviruses have been frequently found to be seasonal and rise during autumn-winter season.

As COVID-19 becomes more endemic, seasonality may become more evident, said a study published in journal Science. COVID-19 may soon turn endemic in many countries and India may be among them, according to WHO.

This was reiterated by the UN weather agency.

This means that Meteorology and Air Quality (MAQ) factors may support monitoring and forecasting of COVID-19 in the coming months and years.

But there are still not enough evidences to support the use of MAQ factors as a basis for governments to relax their interventions aimed at reducing transmission.

The report said:

“The underlying mechanisms that drive seasonality of respiratory viral infections are not yet well understood. A combination of direct impacts on virus survival, impacts on human resistance to infection, and indirect influence of weather and season via changes in human behavior may be at work.”

Way forward

Evidence shows that chronic and short-term exposure to poor air quality exacerbates symptoms and increases mortality rates for some respiratory diseases.

Research has linked air pollution with COVID-19 mortality rates. But the association is yet to be confirmed, said the WMO task team.

The task team also underlined the availability of open, timely and quality-controlled data on COVID-19 and associated risk factors for studies on influence of season and other factors on COVID-19 risk.

The report, however, noted that efforts to provide the data have been disjointed. It pointed to the need for a reporting infrastructure that supports data management and dissemination for analysis of epidemic diseases.

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