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Government interventions, not weather, helped curb Covid cases globally, finds WMO Covid-19 Task Team

The first preliminary report by the Covid-19 Task Force set up by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has cautioned governments that weather, meteorological factors and air quality conditions should not be used as a trigger to relax measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
March 23, 2021 12:33:05 am
Some other factors causing spread of the virus, mentioned by the WMO team, include human behaviour, demographics of the affected population and virus mutations. (Representational/File)

One year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, links between weather and meteorological factors to the cases or mortalities caused due to coronavirus, globally, remain inconclusive. However, links between exposure to outdoor air pollution and Covid-19 mortality from across the world has remained consistent for a year now.

The first preliminary report by the Covid-19 Task Force set up by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has cautioned governments that weather, meteorological factors and air quality conditions should not be used as a trigger to relax measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.

In September 2020, the research board of the WMO constituted a 16-member interdisciplinary and international Covid-19 Task Team including experts in earth sciences, meteorologists and public health from the UK, Barbados, Peru, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Kenya, Spain, Brazil, USA and China. This team examined temperature, humidity, solar radiation, air quality and other key meteorological parameters and assessed their influence on Covid-19 cases and mortality.

In its report published last week, the WMO Covid-19 Task Team states that the transmission dynamics of coronavirus in 2020 and 2021 (till January first week) was influenced mainly by government interventions — imposing lockdowns, travel restrictions and use of face masks rather than any meteorological factors.

“At this stage, evidence does not support the use of meteorological and air quality factors as a basis for governments to relax their interventions aimed at reducing transmission. We saw waves of infection rise in warm seasons and warm regions in the first year of the pandemic, and there is no evidence that this could not happen again in the coming year,” said Dr Ben Zaitchik, Task Team co-chair and meteorologist at the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA, in the WMO statement.

However, some preliminary links between poor air quality and Covid-19 cases seem to be getting established, mainly with respect to outdoor air pollution.

Similar results had emerged from a June 2020 study led by Gufran Beig, senior scientist at the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM). The study had attempted to understand Covid-19-related deaths and air quality in major Indian cities with high case load. The research findings concluded that a higher number of Covid-19 deaths were reported from Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Chennai, where the particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels were above normal.

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“Chronic and short-term exposure to air pollution exacerbates symptoms and increases mortality rates for some respiratory diseases, and it has been consistent with Covid-19 mortality rates. But there is no direct evidence of pollution impact on air-borne viability of the virus,” highlighted the WMO Task Team’s preliminary report.

Even though flu and viral infections exhibit seasonality, or more infections are reported during autumn-winter seasons than temperate seasons, the team made no such observations in case of Covid-19 cases globally.

“Laboratory studies show that SARS-CoV-2 virus survives longer under cold, dry and low ultraviolet radiation conditions. But these studies have not indicated any direct meteorological influences on the virus in real-world conditions,” stated the Task Force’s findings.

Some other factors causing spread of the virus, mentioned by the WMO team, include human behaviour, demographics of the affected population and virus mutations.

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