A group of Wits expert have presented a southern African perspective on climate factors in the spread of covid-19 at an international e-symposium.

Wits University scientists have participated in an e-symposium on climatic factors influencing the spread of covid-19. The team presented a southern African perspective at the international gathering hosted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), on August 4-6.

 “SARS-CoV-2, is a novel coronavirus and one would expect it to have similar behavior to that of other SARS viruses in that the expectation is to contract it over the colder months,” said Bob Scholes a professor of systems ecology at Wits 

Scholes participated in the symposium with colleagues, Professor Francois Engelbrecht and Professor Jennifer Fitchett. The team are also part of the covid-19 Environmental Reference Group (CERG), consortium of scientists from across the country who have been working on the role of climate change in covid-19 transmission, under the Department of Science and Innovation. 

From a southern hemisphere perspective, the team concluded that it is difficult to determine the climate factors that impact the spread of a disease in its first year of transmission. “What we are arguing is that the climate signal, if there is one will only be felt in the second or third year of the pandemic when the pool of infectable people have been reduced, allowing for the kinds of climatically related factors to start playing a more significant role,” said Fitchett. 

Scholes said these environmental effects are hidden by factors such as a mass transmission rates and the social interventions that governments are putting in place like the mandatory wearing of masks in South Africa. 

The team argued that if there is a link between seasonal changes and the disease ten a second wave can be expected in autumn next year.  

“If South Africa gets over its peak and then relaxes its restrictions in December, we are likely to have a climate triggered second wave around March next year,” Scholes said.  

Fitchett said their research highlighted other factors like disease and socio-economic conditions which also has to be factored into covid-19 research in the southern hemisphere.  She said, “More countries in the southern hemisphere are developing countries that have weaker healthcare systems and more complex socio-economic needs.”  

READ MORE: Winter Is Coming: A Southern Hemisphere Perspective of the Environmental Drivers of SARS-CoV-2 and the Potential Seasonality of COVID-19  was published on August 5, 2020 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and was associated with the material that was presented at the symposium.

 FEATURED IMAGE: Scientists from Wits University have told an international symposium that it is too early to identify what climate factors have an impact on the spread of covid-19 and socio-economic and other healt factors have to be considered. Photo: Anna Moross.