Coronavirus: Does COVID-19 spread more in winter? Expert warning

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Coronavirus has slowed down in the UK thanks to lockdown and social distancing measures over the past six months. But scientists are now warning that a resurgence of the virus could come later in the year, due to new research which indicates the virus thrives in wintery conditions.

Coronavirus has slowed down in the UK thanks to lockdown and social distancing measures over the past six months. But scientists are now warning that a resurgence of the virus could come later in the year, due to new research which indicates the virus thrives in wintery conditions.

While this might not seem to make sense for the UK as it rains considerably more in winter, air actually becomes dryer as it holds less moisture as the temperature goes down.

What’s more, having the heating on makes the air around us even dryer because of evaporation.

According to Professor Michael Ward, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney and lead author of the study, this is because the droplets we exhale become smaller when they have less moisture to become enveloped in.

He told The Australian: “When you sneeze and cough, those smaller infectious aerosols can stay suspended in the air for longer.

“That increases the exposure for other people. When the air is humid and the aerosols are larger and heavier, they fall and hit surfaces quicker.”

Human behaviour also has a lot to do with the likely change in the rate of transmission that could come in the winter.

As the cold weather comes in we are much more likely to be spending time indoors, and the benefits of meeting others outside our household in a park or other public space won’t be an option.

This means socialising in indoor areas such as pubs and restaurants are likely to go up, which naturally lends itself to increased spread of the virus.

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Europe and North America saw big initial outbreaks of the virus earlier this year in the transition from winter to spring.

The southern US states had a broad peak in summer (where people head into air conditioned spaces) and South America and Australia have had large outbreaks in their winter.

While social distancing and lockdown measures clearly contributed to stopping much of the spread when the virus was at its worst in our part of the world, a lot remains to be seen about whether the weather makes a foolproof contribution to this.

“This is consistent with the pattern of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic given it started four months later,” wrote biologist and physicist Richard Neher at the University of Basel on Twitter.

“To me, this suggests controlling Sars-CoV-2 in the Northern Hemisphere will become a lot harder over the next six months and things might spiral out of control quickly.

“We understand much better now what settings account for most transmission, so we can hopefully contain it without drastic restrictions but it probably won’t be as easy as in summer.

“We need to act early and should head into winter with as few cases as possible,” he added.

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