ATHENS – After an official in the United States claimed that heat and humidity would lessen the effect of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, a University of Athens professor said the pandemic could ease in May and likely weaken into the summer.
Using comparative data from Greece, which has had among the fewest numbers of cases and deaths in the world, and other countries, Yiannis Toundas, a specialist in Social and Preventive Medicine, gave the optimistic appraisal to Kathimerini.
He said a lockdown brought early by Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis had proved highly effective in limiting the spread of the virus and that while there will continue to be cases that the number will drop off quicker.
People have been required to stay at home, except for permissible trips to places such as supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, hospitals and doctors, and told to stay at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart from each other during the lockdown.
Countries which didn’t react as quickly and let public gatherings go on, such as France, Spain and Italy, were decimated by the virus and hundreds of deaths daily were still occurring there while Greece has had only a handful and one day so far with none.
Toundas compared data from the National Health Organization (EODY) on the evolution of the virus in Greece between February 26, when the first case was recorded, and April 22, with data from the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine on the pandemic’s course in other countries, the paper said.
That showed – barring a recurrence in densely populated areas – that “The pandemic is on course to extinguish during the month of May,” Toundas said, showing its strength was three months, as was the case in Wuhan, China where it began.
Toundas Greece had the highest concentration of cases from March 23 – the day the lockdown began – up to April 3, with deaths peaking between April 2-12 and a one death for every 20 cases.
The most encouraging data is the low transmission rate (or R0 value) of just 0.43, indicating the number of newly-infected people from a single case. In France the rate was recently 2.48 and the global value is 1.68, Toundas said.
HERE COMES THE SUN
William Bryan, acting head of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, said COVID-19 appears to weaken more quickly when exposed to sunlight, heat and humidity.
US government researchers have determined that the virus survives best indoors and in dry conditions, and loses potency when temperatures and humidity rise – and especially when it is exposed to sunlight, he said.
“The virus dies quickest in the presence of direct sunlight,” he told a White House news briefing, the news agency Reuters reported, bringing hope the virus will follow the pattern of flu and die off in hotter weather, although likely to return in the autumn.
Still, there have been cases and deaths southern hemisphere countries during what is their summer months, such as Singapore and Australia, raising some questions about what will happen with COVID-19 and its effect.
President Donald Trump, who earlier said warm weather would bring a “miracle” cure rolled out Bryan to back him up, amid some criticism the claim that heat and humidity would work was another political ploy.
“I once mentioned that maybe it does go away with heat and light. And people didn’t like that statement that much,” Trump said at the briefing where he also asked aides on camera whether zapping patients with light or injecting disinfectant into the lungs to clean sick patients from inside could cure them of the disease.
“Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again I say maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. I’m like a person who has a good you-know-what,” Trump said, pointing to his head, after his anti-science claims riled doctors and medical experts.
He earlier suggested that the unproved anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine might work, leading an Arizona man to try a fish tank cleaning derivative and die, with worry that Trump’s new from-the-hip suggestion to inject disinfectants would prove fatal.
More than 874,000 people in the United States are known to have been infected and over 49,600 have died from COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally.
On nonporous surfaces like stainless steel, the new coronavirus takes 18 hours to lose half its strength in a dark, low-humidity environment, Bryan said.
In a high-humidity environment, that half-life dropped to six hours, and when the virus was exposed to high humidity and sunlight, the half-life dropped to two minutes, he added to that.
Researchers found a similar effect with the coronavirus that was suspended in the air – simulating the coughing or sneezing that often spreads the disease. In a dark room, the virus maintained half its strength for an hour. But when exposed to sunlight, it lost half its strength in 90 seconds, Bryan said.
Researchers also found that isopropyl alcohol was a more effective disinfectant than bleach, he said.
Trump said researchers should try to apply their findings to coronavirus patients by inserting light or disinfectant into their bodies.
“Is there a way we can do something like that by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning?” he said. “It would be interesting to check that,” drawing disbelief from those in the scientific and medical community as he continued to use almost daily briefings for what critics said was an election campaign spot.