Prediction: Coronavirus likely to disappear in May as summer sun heats up China

The sun is the best disinfectant.

Belmont Lay | February 06, 2020, 03:39 PM

The novel coronavirus outbreak has spread across the globe after it was first detected and publicised in late December 2019.

Within five weeks, there have been close to 500 deaths in China alone and more than 28,000 confirmed infections there.

This means that this current outbreak has infected more people in China than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

But as fast it has spread, the virus is also prone to disappearing just as quickly.

The prediction that the virus could be gone by May 2020 has been made by two experts in Singapore, Assistant Professor Jyoti Somani and Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah, both from the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, who wrote about what to expect in a piece for CNA.

These are some of their reasons.

1. Climatic conditions explain rapidity of virus spread

There is a seasonal pattern of novel coronavirus pneumonia that may be similar to that of influenza infection and SARS.

Come May, when summer kicks in and temperatures in China go up, the number of cases may fall sharply in a corresponding manner.

In temperate climates, the flu season usually starts in December with a peak in January or February, after which cases decrease.

Factors that affect infectiousness include the dryness of the air, ambient air temperature, and possibly, ultraviolet solar radiation.

This reinforces the old adage that the sun is the best disinfectant.

China and the United States are experiencing temperate climatic conditions now.

The seasonality of influenza and other respiratory viruses in temperate countries has been observed to be cyclical.

If conditions are not conducive, viruses cannot thrive, just like how SARS disappeared in the northern summer of 2003 when things got warm and has not reappeared significantly since.

The Cambodian health minister recently made a similar argument that the country's hot weather is a deterrent for the virus to take root.

But in his case, he was roundly laughed at.

He might actually be right.

2. People in close proximity indoors during cold weather

Human factors may also contribute to the spread of influenza during the colder winters.

As people spend more time indoors, they are in closer contact with other persons.

Similar to other respiratory viruses such as influenza or the common cold (rhinovirus), this current novel coronavirus is also spread by large droplets of saliva or phlegm.

Moreover, respiratory droplets spread farther when the air is cold and dry.

3. Cold weather conducive for viruses to thrive

Studies have also shown that the “regular” coronavirus, which spreads the common cold, thrive in colder temperatures.

The viruses can survive on surfaces 30 times longer in places with a temperature of 6°C compared to those where the temperature is 20°C and humidity levels are high.

This could explain why Hong Kong and Singapore with their “intensive use of air-conditioning” -- words used in the study -- allowed the SARS virus to survive much longer than they would have in high temperatures and humidity.

This may be the reason why warm and humid Southeast Asian countries did not have SARS outbreaks.

4. Improvements in technology

The genetic sequence of this new type of severe pneumonia in Wuhan was shared relatively early.

Countries all over the world could develop fast and accurate tests in response.

Many labs in advanced countries, including Singapore, are already working on blood tests for rapid detection and studying the immune response to help vaccine development.

Virus might disappear only to reemerge

However, other factors might also come into play, and cause more harm than good.

By putting cities on lockdown, it tends to hurt them economically and there might be a rush to overcome the restrictions.

This could lead to the lockdown measures being prematurely lifted, and causing the virus to spread again.

Pharmaceutical companies might also drop the development of vaccines for the novel coronavirus if the outbreak runs its course by summer.

This would then lead to a lack of financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies to pursue new drugs and treatments.

So, don't be surprised if the new coronavirus becomes yesterday's news overnight and everything goes back to normal again.

Only for it to reemerge.