Scientists divided over effects of summer heat on Covid-19

Scientists are busy trying to answer the burning question: will high summer temperatures ‘see off’ Covid-19, at least until next autumn.

Initial studies of other coronaviruses suggest it will. But because this is a new coronavirus no-one can be sure.

There are the deeply dubious who stress the virus “started in near-freezing conditions in China and is rapidly growing both in Iceland and on the equator in Brazil and Ecuador”. In other words, the heat may do very little to halt its rapid spread.

But, to be fair, the temperatures in Brazil and Ecuador right now are ‘dropping’ and nowhere near as hot as Portugal/ southern Europe can get in the height of the summer – particularly the summers that we have been getting recently.

A new study coming out of London’s University College is hopeful. Lead researcher Rob Aldridge says it shows “we could see continued but lower levels of coronavirus transmission in summer but this may reverse in the winter if there is still a large susceptible population at that point” – which the ‘deeply dubious’ would insist there will be.

Virologist Michael Skinner of Imperial College London has been telling the UK’s Guardian that he is “sure seasonal variations in the virus’s behaviour will play a role in its spread. But compared with the effect we are having with social distancing, it will be a very minor influence”.

In Skinner’s view, the changes will not be a substitute for self-isolation. But then these are the considerations of the scientific population. Politicians and the business sector are bound to interpret the findings differently in order to open the world back up before every single economy tanks irredeemably.

Economists at the ISEG (Lisbon school of economics) are already predicting a recession in Portugal of anything from 4% to 8% of GDP this year. The ‘pain’ all depends on how long the restrictions of the current State of Emergency are kept in place.

Prime minister António Costa has talked in the recent past about having the country back on track (economically) by June. But since then there have been a number of news stories suggesting “European leaders are looking for an exit strategy to national lockdowns” that will come ahead of June, ie within the next few weeks.

For Portugal, which has been internationally praised for taking lockdown measures before anyone died of the virus, the pressure to signal the return to work has increased since ratings agency Fitch decided to reduce the outlook for three of the country’s main banks, CGD, BPI and BCP.

Italian bank Unicredit, for example, is predicting the ‘mother of all recessions’ in which the Portuguese economy, like that of Italy’s, could shrink by 15%.

Thus hopes in the corridors of power are that hot weather will indeed make a difference. It cannot come fast enough.