UP researchers find correlation between lower temperatures and spread of COVID-19

Posted on May 08, 2020

A data analysis conducted by four University of Pretoria (UP) academics has found a correlation between lower temperatures and the faster spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The analysis, conducted by academics from UP’s Department of Economics, Dr Carolyn Chisadza, Dr Matthew Clance, Dr Nicky Nicholls and Dr Eleni Yitbarek, used data from around the world to assess whether lower temperatures have played a role in the spread of the virus.
“We compiled global data on confirmed cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 in January to March 2020, and compared these case incidences and death rates to historical average temperatures for March across various countries. The data shows that the most severe outbreaks thus far are clustered in countries where the weather is cold. Countries with historically lower temperatures also had more deaths,” their report reads.
An example to illustrate this point cited in the report is that, during March, temperatures in the US and Italy (the countries with the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths) averaged between 1 and 7 degrees Celsius respectively. On the other hand, it was observed that countries with warmer temperatures were associated with lower cases and deaths of COVID-19.
The data analysis took into consideration various factors, such as population density, wealth of a country, and BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine) coverage in the correlation. “The trend that remains after accounting for those factors is striking: temperature differences predict as much of the variation in infection and death rates as population density, GDP per capita, BCG coverage and rainfall combined,” it said.
The paper advised that policymakers in the southern hemisphere take these preliminary results as a warning as winter approaches, and put in place strong precautionary measures well in advance to reduce the likelihood of later needing to implement extreme measures that will affect the economy and the livelihood of the poor drastically.  
“The South African government's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been swift and decisive: Lockdown started earlier than in many countries, and government is rolling out an extensive testing and contact tracing plan. Now the momentum needs to be maintained: Healthcare facilities should be equipped with additional beds, ventilators and necessary protective gear; and we have to continue our efforts to raise public awareness on appropriate behaviours and the use of personal protective equipment. If the worst is yet to come, we need to use the time we have to be prepared.”
To read the researchers’ data analysis summary, click here.
- Author Department of Economics

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