As winter gives way to spring, will the novel coronavirus disappear with it?
President Trump late last week took to Twitter to share details from his phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he called “strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the coronavirus.”
“He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days. Nothing is easy, but he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm [and] the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone,” he added, in part.
While it’s possible the world — namely China, which has reported 1,016 deaths due to the illness to date — could see some relief as the weather warms, an infectious disease expert who spoke to Fox News isn’t so convinced spring and summer will bring an end to the outbreak. Essentially, it’s too early to know. Scientists are still working to understand the novel virus, which has sickened more than 43,000 people globally as of Tuesday.
"We hope that the gradual spring will help this virus recede, but our crystal ball is not very clear. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus, and we know respiratory viruses are often seasonal, but not always. For example, influenza (flu) tends to be seasonal in the U.S., but in other parts of the world, it exists year-round. Scientists don’t fully understand why even though we have been studying [the] flu for many years,” Dr. William Schaffner, the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told Fox News in an email.
“The novel coronavirus was just discovered in humans in December. It is too early to know for certain what the impact of warmer weather will be,” he added.
There are at least four pre-existing coronaviruses that are seasonal — but why exactly remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, as is the case for many infectious diseases. For instance, the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which claimed nearly 800 lives at the time, ended in the summer — but a 2004 report on the seasonality of SARS did not establish a clear reason for why that was.
“Our understanding of the forces driving seasonal disappearance and recurrence of infectious diseases remains fragmentary, thus limiting any predictions about whether, or when, SARS will recur,” the authors wrote at the time. “It is true that most established respiratory pathogens of human beings recur in wintertime, but a new appreciation for the high burden of disease in tropical areas reinforces questions about explanations resting solely on cold air or low humidity.”
That said, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, told Reuters he is hopeful the coronavirus outbreak could be over by spring.
The epidemiologist, who helped with the country’s response to SARS nearly two decades ago, told the outlet the virus may peak this later this month before cases plateau and then decline. Zhong — citing “mathematical modeling, recent events, and government action,” according to Reuters — hypothesized that the outbreak could be over by April.