Experts keep their distance from COVID-19 winter theory

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Experts say it is social distancing, not the weather, that will determine whether Australia experiences a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

They agree Australia must hasten slowly in removing restrictions, fearing a spike in infections that will undo the good work done so far in combatting the deadly disease.

And they say a second wave won’t occur as a result of the country entering winter.

Professor Michael Wallach, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of Technology in Sydney, told the ABC the virus “doesn’t seem to care about the weather”.

“I don’t think it’s simply a matter of warm or cold weather. This virus is extraordinarily good at transmitting and infecting human cells,” he said.

The myth that hot weather combats the disease is partly attributable to US President Donald Trump, who in March told Fox business and state governors that the virus “dies with the hotter weather” in April (Northern Hemisphere).

The Australian reported that Trump administration coronavirus taskforce coordinator Dr Deborah Birx is monitoring how our winter affects our anti-virus efforts.

“It will be very interesting to watch Australia, New Zealand, southern Africa and Chile and Argentina to see what happens with the virus in the summertime, and what’s happening to the virus here,” it quoted Dr Birx as saying. “So really, those two pieces will really define how we (the US) do in the fall.”

However, experts don’t believe the season will affect the progress of the virus.

“It’s a new disease, so we don’t know whether there’s a direct link between the weather and COVID-19,” said infectious diseases epidemiologist Meru Sheel, from the Australian National University. “Although the evidence would suggest probably not.”

Peak transmission in Australia occurred in warm weather.

“We see also what’s happening in Sweden, where they’re coming into spring now and people are outside – the transmission rate is high … we’re seeing a high level of mortality,” said Prof. Wallach.

Extreme heat is used as a form of sterilisation in hospitals, said Brian Oliver, professor of respiratory diseases at the University of Technology Sydney.

“If it were something like 50°C, well, then it probably wouldn’t survive too well. But how many places reach 50°C?” he told the ABC.

He said a 37-degree day “is not going to do much”.

Flu is more of a concern in winter because more people congregate in proximity in colder months, which increases infection rates. Influenza is called a ‘seasonal flu’. A bad flu season would make it more difficult to combat COVID-19.

But social distancing measures are effective against both diseases.

“Basically, the risk of a second wave is because most of us haven’t had the infection, so the vast majority are still not immune,” Dr Kathryn Snow, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, told The New Daily. “That means the possibility that it will take off and a lot of us will get sick.

“Unfortunately, there is still a really huge risk. I think we’ve done really well; we’ve managed to flatten our curve.”

Bill Bowtell, a strategic health policy adviser and adjunct professor at the University of New South Wales, said if we “throw caution to the wind” a second wave will occur.

“As sure as night follows day, a second wave will come if people ignore or reject the need for social distancing … and believe that somehow everything is fine, which it’s not.

“We saw how quickly things can go wrong in Tasmania. They were doing pretty well as an island. It seemed they had it under control. The virus slipped through and there was a big spike,’’ Prof Bowtell said.

“That to me seems to be the concern, as we move cautiously to any sort of relaxation. You wouldn’t want to relax measures except on the basis of science and extreme caution.”

Singapore eased restrictions, saw an immediate and dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases, then reintroduced and extended strict measures until June.

The Guardian reported that the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people, occurred in multiple waves “with the latter more severe than the first”.

“Other flu pandemics – including in 1957 and 1968 – all had multiple waves. The 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic started in April and was followed, in the US and temperate northern hemisphere, by a second wave in the autumn.”

Dr Chris Moy, president of the Australian Medical Association in South Australia, also warned against Australia relaxing restrictions too quickly.

“We are not at all close to getting out of the woods … If we open up again, we will get a second wave, there’s no doubt about it,” Dr Moy told SBS News.

“And the next wave could be harder, because during the first wave we knew where ‘the enemy’ was coming from – basically from overseas. We knew who we had to test and who we had to contact trace,” he said.

“The next wave, if it comes, will come from the community, and we won’t know exactly where it’s coming from, which is scary if that happens.”

A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters this week: “If you move too quickly, then the virus could begin to spread exponentially again. The big concern is a second peak, that is what ultimately will do the most damage to health and the most damage to the economy.

“What we need to be certain of is that if we move to lift some of the social distancing measures it isn’t going to lead to the virus starting to spread exponentially again.”

Archie Clements, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Curtin University, is urging cautious lifting of social restrictions.

But he has sobering news.

“There are going to be some restrictions around our lives for a number of years, because it will take that long for a vaccine to be developed and tested and rolled out.”

Dr Snow agrees. “Until a vaccine exists, the risk won’t go away.”

Are you prepared for a long battle against COVID-19? Have you reconciled with yourself that our old ways may be at least a year away?

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Written by Will Brodie


Total Comments: 25
  1. 0

    Things are already heading in a bad direction. The growth rate of the virus in Australia is now over 1. We had got well below 1 for a while there. For as long as it’s over 1, numbers will get worse, not better. And Scott and Josh want everyone back to school and back to work. Maybe they should tell us which people’s deaths they are happy with.

    • 0

      I wonder if the PM is happy for his own children at risk? Perhaps not.

    • 0

      Winston, what a silly comment about the professionals, the experts, being Libs, really you think only Morrisons cabinet have the only say, have you looked at your state governments, they have the say, I think you need to look closer,schools ??? I don’t know, but there are lots of younger people working in places, the million that aren’t well we have to try to start up again, and homeschooling, It is not for the majority, those who swear by it are doing it, they are a minority, so this is perhaps a generation or two in our country if we all home school, where we lose that whole group to badly educated generation of people, we have to fight on all fronts mate!
      But schools , that is a hard one. So is business, and paying back the debt, who do we actually owe the money to?

  2. 0

    I agree, Winston. Let’s not rush, keep the schools closed for most children and keep the restrictions until things get a bit clearer. Put our health over our wealth. A job is no good to you if you’re dead.

    • 0

      I have an issue with the decision around schools. The expert panel of health professionals has decided that it will be OK for schools to re-open but teachers with no medical knowledge are objecting. Teachers are public servants and, like all other public servants, should accept what their department has requested them to do. If teachers don’t want to comply with their employer that means that they are on strike and, as such, should be docked pay for each and every day they choose to stay on strike.

    • 0

      Horace, the expert panel are Liberal Party appointees. Remote learning is working fine in Victoria. I need say no more.

    • 0

      Agreed, Kathryn. I am a former teacher. There is no way that children in classrooms, or teachers in a staff room, can keep social distancing. It is madness to try.

    • Profile Photo

      Yes Horace and about time we paid those teachers danger money, babysitting money and educator’s salaries. They used to earn the same as a government backbench minister. Time to return to that parity.

      And I agree social distancing is impossible in the overcrowded schools and staff rooms.

      Australia is short hundreds of schools to cater for the huge rise in populations of school kids.

  3. 0

    “Are you prepared for a long battle against COVID-19? Have you reconciled with yourself that our old ways may be at least a year away?”

    Yes, we are prepared for a long battle and as we are both retired, this will not be too great an imposition. We do, however, feel for those who are struggling because of a loss of employment and a commensurate drop in income even though debts and services still need to be met.

    I wonder if our “old ways” will ever be the same. We read that any restaurants or clubs with smorgasbords will not be allowed to re-open them which I feel is a knee jerk reaction as there is no evidence that they promote viruses any more than standard types of food service. We also read that a lot of businesses will never re-open and this is sad for those who have worked hard to establish a business. Will this also mean that there will be less competition and higher prices? Only time will tell.

    • 0

      There’s a lot of speculation right now. I’m in the wait-and-see camp.

    • 0

      I believe we will never ever do some things the way we used to,I for one won’t be eating off a smorgasbord set up, again. They are germ-ridden enough before corona, what needs to be done is laws that create social distancing to a sensible degree, and proper testing and reminders all over the place about hygiene, how many forget to wash their hands after a public toilet visit, many are that dumb one of the greatest producers of contageous germs virus’ whatever is filthy hands, public toilets should be maintained to a very very high standard, that is a councils responsibility.
      We need to restrict in a manner that is slow and easy and the safest we can have, remember we also have to regain some activity or world ruin would see the place feeling like you would have been better off dead.
      YOU WON’T BE, We need to follow and prepare, for bad situations, we will get a vaccine but corona is now part of our world, we have to find a way to live with it and hold it in check, or we are goners. Got to be positive, sensibly, we’ll be fine!

  4. 0

    I can keep my distance, but what about school children? I am a grandparent and this is my main concern.

  5. 0

    Horace Cope, I used to be a teacher so I feel I can comment on why teachers are worried about schools reopening. Children could be carrying the virus and if you’re an older teacher you are more at risk of being infected and reacting badly. Anyone who has taught knows that social distancing in a classroom isn’t possible as you simply haven’t got the room to spread people out and kids forget all the time that they’re supposed to stay away from their friends. I taught in Singapore when SARS was prevalent in 2003. We teachers went into school every day and taught online. It was hugely unsatisfying and a great deal of extra work. Teachers usually like working with kids and that’s why they do the job. I’d be surprised if the concerns are because they don’t want to teach face to face and would rather teach online. I was a Drama and English teacher and both subjects need plenty of discussion and explanation and I found online teaching quite soul destroying. However, if the choice is get sick or online I’d go for online.

    • 0

      So, flowerpot, you would ignore the advice of health professionals because you think you know more than they do. Why are teachers different from any other public servant who are required to work through this pandemic, regardless of their age? You don’t think that they are also worried?

    • 0

      Horace, those health professions are Liberal Party appointees. You may be comfortable following the party line on this. I prefer to use my own scientific and mathematical knowledge combined with advice from real, practicing medicos I know.

    • 0

      Horace; The big difference between school teachers and the other public servants is that the other public servants are not stuck in a single class room with 30 young children. The other public servants can isolate their workstation so that there is no chance of infection but a school teacher cannot do this. It does not take much of a brain power to work this out instead of spreading political bullshit. I would take as much notice of the advise from those inexperienced with children health experts as I would take notice of stupid Donald Trump and his expert claim of the best medications to take to kill the virus. The way that this virus is spread is by close contact which is what the teacher has with the children students.

    • 0

      Horace, if you don’t know why teachers are different from other public servants it’s a long time since you’ve been in a classroom.

      The “experts” say it’s safe for kids to go back to school because children who have been infected have caught COVID in the home environment and not in schools. Der! That’s because children have been at home and not at school.

    • 0

      Wow, rattled a few cages and the respondents have totally missed the point. School teachers are no different from the rest of the population in this pandemic yet, somehow, they feel that they must get treated differently. I agree with the medical experts who tell us that the risk of children getting COVID-19 is very low so the risk of passing it on is therefore very low. As well as wanting to be treated differently, apparently school teachers are smarter than the medical experts who have kept Australia reasonably safe with a death toll of less than 100. The UK has nearly 30,000 deaths and has 2½ the population of Australia yet the death toll is 97% higher and for that we can thank our medical experts and the politicians, both federal and state, who have ensured that the right methods were used to combat the pandemic.

    • 0

      Like “I’ll be going to the footy” and the Ruby Princess disaster, eh?

      Please come and sit in a classroom or a teacher office when schools go back, and tell us how long you could socially distance.

    • 0

      I don’t have to, Winston Smith, because I chose a different profession when I left being educated. Those who chose to become teachers are now being asked to do what they signed on for and if they don’t want to do that then they have another option don’t they. All businesses have staff rooms or equivalent so why are teachers different?

    • 0

      Children can get covid19 and they can pass it on. They are often asymptomatic as well. The more we open up the more people will become infected. This virus is super good at passing itself around as well. It is invisible. Kids cough into your face and I have even had kids cough into my mouth at school. Young children and sometimes even older children do not keep their distance they are right on top of you. Not all experts agree that schools are safe because many say the opposite. Then you have the pickups and drop offs where parents congregate, good luck controlling that.
      As for visiting each other, people will go to multiple homes and they will not socially distance, then they will move around and even visit great grandparents they cover everyone.
      The only way to control the spread is to limit contact. We have seen where there have been second waves so it will continue. People will not be happy to have to lock down again. We need to limit contact as much as possible.

  6. 0

    It does appear that those in power want to get the economy going in several countries. In fact in one country they seem prepared to lose 3000 people per day.
    I wonder if the age of those dying was a lot lower would we be lifting restrictions so early. I don’t think so. Those that are dying are mainly pensioners therefore welfare recipients, therefore non tax contributors.
    Its like its straight out of a Dystopian novel, shades of 1984
    I Washington state USA it was found that children were infecting their teachers and the teachers were getting sick and dying but kids were ok.
    As for rugby league wanting to start up again you can’t expect much else from a bunch of dumb window lickers from the top down. I think we are in for a torrid six months

  7. Profile Photo

    I am not an expert on infectious diseases, I also don’t believe that a health professional no matter who appointed them would lie about the best way forward for our country, what is very clear and I don’t think you need to be a great mathematician or an economic expert to realise that if people don’t get back to work then we are going to possibly end up in a deep depression, no production = no money, no food, no life as we know it, so it’s not a case of is it safe for teachers to go back to work but a case of wether anyone should be in work where there are any other people in close proximity, so shops should not be open, industry should not be open, if fact any job that can not be done in your own home should not be open, teachers are no different to anyone else in relevance to safety. I don’t know the answer, the experts seem to agree worldwide that until we can get a successful and proven vaccine then we are not going to be safe, most seem to think that a fully tested and safe vaccine might not be available for between 12 and 18 months, if we stay in isolation for that amount of time to keep everyone safe will we survive? Already workers are already putting themselves at risk, the shop workers serving you with groceries, the transport workers, the doctors, nurses, the paramedics, the police and any other worker that is out there working trying to keep the country running, they all have protocols in place in an attempt to keep them safe, unfortunately many have been infected, so I suppose we should stop everyone from going to work in fairness to them. The truth is nobody wants anyone to be at risk, but that is not the reality and that is what we have to work with.

  8. 0

    Have to say to Your Life Choices.
    Your reports on COVID19 appear to suggest that we are absolutely in trouble still, and it’ll be worse than before, you also seem to be doomsayers. Definite mass 2nd wave?
    Now we have to be careful to get through this virus, with a vaccine in a couple of years, but we also have to be aware, of the danger of a second wave, you are also making points from the past, that no one actually has any idea of, Coronavirus, is not Spanish Flu, it is not H1N1, it is not flu from 1957, The Singapore second hit, was created by human error they had allowed Sri Lankan and other workers into the country, previously who must have had some carriers with them, they were cheap labour for Singapore development, they were more than likely part of the first wave! Now locked up like animals!
    I also found in your article a slight against the usual victim a very small slight but it was there absolutely anyway, it was referring to Trump, who can’t speak without ridicule from those who should know better, immaturity and foolish hatreds help no one!
    His commentary was about the heat of summer the heat in itself and how it effects COVID19 , well that’s another thing that is still not known, your article appears to say that we will get a second and much worse wave?
    Then I find that The New Daily, is mentioned in this article, and I am immediately wary of anything that TND have to do with. Especially if they are involved in Your Life Choices because I find them a biased group, and people who seem to take joy out of spreading misery and worry.
    Especially people in the older age groups the retirement bracket who are generally a little worried about their mortality any way, let alone putting up with a terror of Coronavirus, every day from opinionated “experts” whenreally there is no such thing as an expert on the unknown!

    Your life choices, folk seem to do that, you have many many negatives in your reporting on all aspects of your news, finances everything.A head line of “look out” style.

    I like your articles that are helpful. But really some of the health things, make it fell like someone getting paranoid reading too many medical diagnosis books, and some people do.

    We have a very serious problem on our planet now, and we must be very very aware of second wave risk, and to a degree that this disease will never ever go away, like influenza it is here and will still be here even when vaccines are found. Like Influenza.

    What the vulnerable don’t need is to be hammered by gloom and opinionated reports, I hope truly that you are not an affiliate of TND, I had to unsubscribe from their free online news because of massive bias in one direction, somewhat like the fake Get Up people, who everyone saw through eventually, after they professed to be a cross-section of the wider community, no they were a “one-way community”.

    Please ease up. you are frightening and not positive enough!

    I have a close relative who has an immune deficiency situation.
    Tell the story, but tell the news, not opinion, that should only come from financial assistance people, opinions made by guesswork with corona that we really know nothing about, is quite off-putting dangerous too. Try smiling a bit.
    Let go of TND too.

  9. 0

    I think some on this forum should reflect on what ‘safe’ means. Safe does not mean absence of risk, it means the risk is acceptable. For instance the risk of a meteor falling out of the sky and demolishing your house is very small, almost negligible, but the risk is still there, a falling meteor has to fall somewhere, but we would say we are safe from falling meteors. Driving across a rail crossing with the lights flashing and bells ringing is very risky, just because one managed to get over the crossing unscathed does not mean it was a safe thing to do. Are schools ‘safe’, probably, but is the risk so small that we can accept a certain number of infections some of which may have a fatal outcome.
    No matter that the experts do not believe that colder winter weather will see an increase in the virulence of the virus my gut instinct tells me otherwise. No expert is willing to state categorically that weather plays no part, they use terms such as ‘should’, ‘may’ or ‘I believe’. The expert from UTS states that even a 37 degree day may not kill the virus, maybe not, but I know that if I leave a tool in the Sun for even a short time on a 30 degree day it will soon be too hot to touch. I know that’s not science but I do know the difference between the shade temperature and the temperature in the Sun. I can recall when I lived in Perth every summer the newspapers/TV news would show eggs being cooked on an iron manhole, correction personhole, cover. I am unconvinced it does not get hot enough in the Sun to kill any virus.
    Northern Territory, with daily temperatures in the 30s, has no community transmissions whereas Victoria and Tasmania, with daily temperatures between 13 and 19 degrees have multiple community transmissions. I have great fear for the winter months, I hope I am wrong, but I wait and see and stay home.



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