Spring is just around the corner and summer is well and truly on its way.
The changing season has fuelled concern that after a winter of lockdown, Australians will forget the pandemic, start throwing their arms around each other while they’re out enjoying the sun in large numbers.
Earlier in the year, we saw Sydneysiders flock to beaches, enraging officials. This weekend, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews had to scold Melburnians for similar behaviour.
But public health experts are cautioning that for Australia to avoid another wave, and longer lockdown, everyone has to be vigilant as we enter spring.
There have been some claims the virus spreads faster in winter than it does in summer, but recent experience from the US and Europe shows this might not be the case.
In fact, we’re not really sure how the weather affects the spread of COVID-19, but one recent Australian study showed that humidity could play a role.
The study, which was also supported by research that came out of Wuhan, showed the number of locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the Sydney area increased as the air became drier.
Professor Peter Collignon, infectious diseases expert at ANU, said if COVID-19 follows a similar trend to influenza, we will see more cases in spring.
“If you look at the flu, it’s often August and September that cases spike. I don’t think we can say we won’t have a problem through spring,” Professor Collignon said.
“It can be quite severe in September because people are still inside a lot.”
He said the short answer was ‘we just don’t know’ what the change in weather will bring or why some diseases increased at the change of season.
“One of the arguments with influenza is that the schools all go on holidays in September, but influenza is not the same,” he said.
“The short answer is we don’t know.
“What we don’t know why in late winter and early spring you get more respiratory illness transmission.
“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t transmit in summer.
“If you look at the US and in Europe, people have got the virus.
“It transmits less outside but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t transmit.”
Although summer may see a drop in case numbers, it does bring with it the biggest threat – large crowds and booze, he said.
“The big risk is lots of crowds indoors with alcohol,” he said.
Summer’s weather does brings one relief, Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University’s chairwoman of epidemiology said.
“Warmer weather means you can be more comfortable outdoors, that’s known to have less risk. You can spread yourself out a bit more, you’ve got airflow,” Professor Bennett said.
“Those three things make it healthier. It’s a low-risk way to connect.”
But this could be a double-edged sword, which could make or break Australia’s count case, she said.
“There is a risk people will get together. They’ll be having fun, they will forget, they’ll hug their friends when they go to a picnic in the park and will forget to be cautious,” Professor Bennett said.
“We don’t want this getting out of control again.
“Summer looks promising to me. Let’s hope it plays out this way.”