Some of Australia’s leading disease experts are warning our hard work keeping the coronavirus at bay during the warmer autumn months may come undone as we head into winter.
As Melbournians and Sydneysiders wake up to frosty mornings and with winter fully on its way, health experts around the country are following the lead of Australia Chief Health Officer in warning us to stay vigilant.
“We don’t know what effect winter will have,” Professor Brendan Murphy told a Senate hearing last week.
“We don’t know exactly how this virus will behave in temperature and climate. That’s one of the things we are concerned about in Australia.”
Australian National University infectious disease physician and microbiologist Professor Peter Collignon said it was likely COVID-19 would spread more in winter.
“Winter is coming up and it will probably be more likely to be transmitted,” he said.
Although COVID-19 would transmit more rapidly in winter, the nature of the virus meant summer was no instant cure, as other countries had experienced, he said.
“Basically every virus that we have and know about is transmitted more often in winter, during cold times. But equally, they can transmit during warmer months, look at Singapore, for instance, which is never in winter.
“We’ve had transitions of COVID-19 when it was our autumn.
“But that happens with influenza, it transmits in summer and autumn but we have fewer cases.
“The major outbreaks have been in the United States, Europe and China and they were in winter. But equally, Korea had an outbreak in February, which they got under control, even though it was winter.”
The Rapid Research Information Forum, which is lead by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel and boasts 35 members, including state and territory chief scientists, has previously warned the coronavirus could spread rapidly in winter.
Although there is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19, research from Hong Kong University shows that it spreads quicker and lives longer in colder temperatures.
Viruses spread in tiny droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
They increase in winter because we spend more times indoors, ANU infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Meru Sheel said.
“We see an increase in respiratory diseases in general because people tend to spend more time in confined spaces, and we tend to keep the windows closed,” Dr Sheel said.
“There’s less ventilation, and also there are more people in that space. In summer we spend more time outside – in winter you spend more time inside.”
So to stay healthy and stop COVID-19 spreading, we need to practice strict public health hygiene, she said.
“I think the most important thing is public health hygiene, like washing your hands, use a tissue to blow your nose,”
“As we go into flu season people should get vaccinated for flu. If you are at home with symptoms then avoid physical contact with family members, hugs and kisses, and if you have symptoms go get tested for COVID-19.”