Will warmer weather help fight the coronavirus? Singapore and Australia suggest maybe not

Hong Kong (CNN)As the novel coronavirus began spreading around the world this year, one common refrain from skeptics of the emergency measures being put in place to stop the outbreak was that it was just like the flu — dangerous to sensitive groups but routine and not something to get into lockdown over.

We now know that assessment is wrong. At its lowest estimated fatality rate based on current data, Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is thought to kill some 1-2% of known patients, compared to around 0.1% for winter influenza. The coronavirus also appears to be about as infectious as the flu, and potentially more so, especially as there are no specific treatment, cure or seasonal vaccine.

There is one area in which experts hope the virus will still behave like influenza, however, by tapering off in spring.

“This is a respiratory virus and they always give us trouble during cold weather, for obvious reasons,” Nelson Michael, a leading US military medical researcher, said of the novel coronavirus last week. “We’re all inside, the windows are closed, etcetera, so we typically call that the influenza or the flu season.”

Influenza thrives in cold and dry conditions, which is why winter is flu season for much of the northern hemisphere. Behavioral differences in winter can also have an effect. Michael predicted the coronavirus may behave like the flu and give us “less trouble as the weather warms up,” but, he cautioned, it could come back when the weather gets cold again.

The hope is that, along with radical action by governments and the public to decrease the number of new cases, reduced spread during warmer weather would give health systems space to cope with the initial influx of coronavirus patients, and buy time for a potential vaccine to be developed.

“This is why it’s really important to understand that a lot of what we’re doing now is getting ourselves ready for what we’re calling the second wave of this,” Michael warned.

But what if the virus does not behave like influenza? Could we be dealing with infection rates that remain high throughout the year? More than 100 cases have been confirmed in Singapore, where it’s hot and muggy pretty much year round. Australia, Brazil and Argentina, all currently in the middle of summer, have also reported dozens of cases.

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