World Media Highlight Pakistani-American's Work on Coronavirus

Mainstream western and Indian media have widely covered a recent MIT paper by a Pakistani-American scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the effects of heat and humidity on coronavirus pandemicDr. Qasim Bukhari, the lead author, is an alumnus of NED University located in Karachi, Pakistan. Dr. Yusuf Jamil, the paper's coauthor, is Indian-American originally from Kolkata, West Bengal. The paper is posted on Social Science and Research Network (SSRN). It has been mentioned in reports by New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Forbes, Times of India, The Hindu, India Today and many other publications. The paper shows that 90% of the coronavirus (COVID19 or 2019-nCoV) cases so far have occurred  in regions with absolute humidity between 4 and 10 grams per cubic meter. One possible reason is that the fatty outer layer of the virus has trouble surviving in high heat and humidity. The virus disintegrates when the fatty outer cover is gone in a way similar to how the soap and hot water destroy it. This may explain why there appear to be relatively few reports of local COVID-19 transmissions in places like Pakistan. Most of the known coronavirus cases in Pakistan appear to be those of the people who have come into the country from cold, dry places like northern Iran where the pandemic is raging. The rate of local transmission in Pakistan is not zero but relatively low.  Dr. Bukhari says that "there is indeed evidence that weather plays a role, but in no way we are suggesting that this role alone would be so decisive as to completely halt the spread of COVID."

Dr. Qasim Bukhari

Bukhari and Jamil:

The paper titled "Will Coronavirus Pandemic Diminish by Summer?" written by Dr. Qasim Bukhari and Dr. Yusuf Jamil explains that "several countries between 30N and 30S such as Australia, UAE, Qatar, Singapore, Bahrain, Qatar and Taiwan have performed extensive testing per capita and the number of positive 2019-nCoV cases per capita are lower in these countries compared to several European countries and the US".  "The relation between the number of 2019-nCoV cases and temperature and absolute humidity observed here is strong however, the underlying reasoning behind

this relationship is still not clear", they write.

Here's a brief Question/Answer version of the email exchange I had with Dr. Bukhari today:

RH: My understanding from the data I have seen from various sources is that the coronavirus transmission rates decline but do not necessarily go to zero in hot and humid weather. And the reason is that the fatty outer layer of the virus has trouble in heat and humidity. Is that accurate?

QB: That would be almost accurate. The only thing we dont know so far is, how much decline in growth rate we are talking about. It is definitely non-zero. The underlying reasons may be many or either of many. One reason could be the fatty outer layer reason that you mentioned. Other reason could be the antibacterial nature of sunlight, another reason could be low indirect transmission (through air) in high humidity.

Sounding a note of caution, here's what Dr. Bukhari wrote to me:

"There is indeed evidence that weather plays a role, but in no way we are suggesting that this role alone would be so decisive as to completely halt the spread of COVID. And anyway, the affect of this weather would only be relevant in humid hot countries. Please do share, but please use the right words that properly communicate that it is incredibly important to take precautions and quarantine measures even in the most humid hot regions, as the spread would keep on going without that, we have evidence from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia of this."

Over 90% of Coronavirus Cases So Far in Red Zone. Source: Dr. Qasim...

Wang, Weifeng, Beihang and Ke Tang: 

There is similar work that has recently been published by a Chinese research team that included Jingyuan Wang, Kai Feng, Weifeng Lv of Beihang University, and Ke Tang from Tsinghua University. They studied 100 different Chinese cities that each reported more than 40 cases of COVID-19 from Jan. 21 to 23, 2020.

“In the early dates of the outbreaks, countries with relatively lower air temperature and lower humidity (e.g. Korea, Japan and Iran) saw severe outbreaks than warmer and more humid countries (e.g. Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand) do," the researchers wrote.

COVID-16 Transmission Rates Vs Temperature and Humidity

Here's an excerpt from the abstract published by the team:

"After estimating the serial interval of COVID-19 from 105 pairs of the virus carrier and the infected, we calculate the daily effective reproductive number, R, for each of all 100 Chinese cities with more than 40 cases. Using the daily R values from January 21 to 23, 2020 as proxies of non-intervened transmission intensity, we find, under a linear regression framework for 100 Chinese cities, high temperature and high relative humidity significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19, respectively, even after controlling for population density and GDP per capita of cities. One degree Celsius increase in temperature and one percent increase in relative humidity lower R by 0.0383 and 0.0224, respectively. This result is consistent with the fact that the high temperature and high humidity significantly reduce the transmission of influenza. It indicates that the arrival of summer and rainy season in the northern hemisphere can effectively reduce the transmission of the COVID-19."

Some experts are pointing to the increased amount of UV rays from the sun the Northern Hemisphere will be subject to this time of year as a factor that could slow the virus, according to a story in AccuWeather.

Dr. Anthony Fauci On Effect of Weather:

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) who also serves on the White House coronavirus task force, has acknowledged that a change of season might affect COVID transmission rates.

Here's what he said at a recent White House briefing: “I think it (weather) very well might. And the reason I say that is that what we’re starting to see now in the Southern Hemisphere, in southern Africa and in the southern hemisphere countries, is that we’re having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season. And if, in fact, they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared, that we’ll get a cycle around the second time.”

Summary:

Mainstream US and Indian media have widely covered a recent MIT paper on the effects of heat and humidity on coronavirus transmission. Dr. Qasim Bukhari, the lead author and alumnus of NED University located in Karachi, Pakistan, has shared data showing that 90% of the coronavirus cases so far have occurred  in a regions with absolute humidity between 4 and 10 grams per cubic meter. Recent Chinese research is also showing that hot and humid weather may significantly slow down transmission of coronavirus or COVID-19. An increase of just one degree Celsius and 1% relative humidity increase substantially lower the (Covid-19  or 2019-nCoV) virus’s transmission, says a study published on March 10, 2020 by Chinese researchers. One possible reason is that the fatty outer layer of the virus has trouble surviving in high heat and humidity. The virus disintegrates when the fatty outer cover is gone in a way similar to how the soap and hot water destroy it. This may explain why there appear to be relatively few reports of local COVID-19 transmissions in places like Pakistan. Most of the known coronavirus cases in Pakistan appear to be those of the people who have come into the country from cold, dry places like northern Iran where the pandemic is raging. The rate of local transmission in Pakistan is not zero but relatively low. Dr. Bukhari says that "there is indeed evidence that weather plays a role, but in no way we are suggesting that this role alone would be so decisive as to completely halt the spread of COVID."

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Comment by Riaz Haq on April 1, 2020 at 4:09pm

#Coronavirus outbreak from #Nizamuddin mosque is being used by #Indian media to blame #Muslims for spreading the virus. “Corona Jihad” is trending on Twitter. This comes in the wake of recent #pogrom that killed many Muslims in #Delhi. #Modi #Hindutva https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/01/india-coronavirus-cas...

The jump in number of cases was linked to an annual two-day convention of the Muslim sect Tablighi Jamaat on 13 March, for which about 3,500 people gathered from all over the country and abroad in the south Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin. Almost 2,000 stayed in the area for days afterwards, and the area has become the coronavirus hotspot of India.


The outbreak from the Nizamuddin mosque gathering also inflamed religious tensions in a city still reeling from communal riots last month that took 50 lives, with Hindu mobs rampaging through the streets attacking Muslims in their homes.

Across Indian media and social networks, Muslims were blamed for spreading the virus while “Corona Jihad” began to trend on Twitter.

The gathering also appeared to trigger a spread of the virus across numerous states from Kashmir to West Bengal by those who returned home afterwards. So far, 10 people who attended the event have died while 1,800 people have been sent to nine hospitals and quarantine centres across the country.

However, despite the jump in number of cases this week, the Indian government insists there is still no community transmission and that cases have been either from those who travelled abroad or in localised incidents. Lav Agarwal, the joint secretary in the health ministry, told reporters: “Nowhere have we said that there is a community transmission. We are still in a local transmission in this country.”

Raman R Gangakhedkar, the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases at the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), also insisted there was “no reason to panic at the moment”. Nonetheless, the ICMR conceded last month that community transmission was “inevitable” in India.


“Until we see a significant number of cases to indicate community transmission, let us not over interpret things,” said Gangakhedkar.

Doctors in hospitals across India said the lack of proper protective equipment available for medical staff, including basic masks, meant that patients presenting with coronavirus symptoms were being turned away. Doctors in Kolkata described how they were made to wear plastic raincoats to examine possible coronavirus patients, while a doctor in a Delhi hospital resorted to wearing a motorcycle helmet to cover his face.

One junior doctor working in a Kolkata hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated, described how “for over a week, we came in close contact with suspected corona patients without proper protective gear … We all are left at the mercy of God.”

The doctor also cast aspersions on the claim that the disease was not already spreading within impoverished communities.

“Every day thousands of people gather here, seeking treatment for many infectious diseases. Last week, I noticed, hundreds of people, with many coughing, having fever and breathing problems stood on queue waiting for their turn to be examined by us,” he said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 14, 2020 at 8:10pm

Fact or fiction? Warmer #weather slows down the #coronavirus. Data shows coronavirus is transmitted more rapidly in cities (population density) with cooler, drier weather. #COVID19 #heat #humidity #population #density #NewYork #Italy #UK #Qom https://grist.org/climate/fact-or-fiction-warmer-weather-slows-down... via @grist

As lockdowns sweep the country and people prepare to work from home for months, many are wondering whether springtime’s warmer temperatures will provide much-needed relief from the coronavirus. Others, including President Donald Trump, have made the case that it’s a certainty.

“When it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away,” said Trump, at a rally in New Hampshire last month. That was five weeks before U.S. cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, topped 15,000 and global cases climbed to over 250,000. (So, no, a little warmth hasn’t brought a miracle.)

But there is some (very) early evidence that the current pandemic could be alleviated by rising temperatures and local climates. A preprint of a study by researchers in China — which has yet to be peer reviewed — examined 100 Chinese cities that had more than 400 cases. They found that the coronavirus was transmitted more rapidly in cities with cooler and drier weather conditions. Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, typically has temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit during December and January. Last week, it was in the low 70s.

Similarly, two other draft papers posted in recent weeks suggest that the current global spread of the coronavirus shows that it prefers cool and dry climates.

It’s not just wishful thinking. Warmer, more humid conditions have slowed the spread of other viruses. The regular old flu is known to peak in winter months and dissipate during the summer. This could be because people tend to be indoors more in the winter, spreading germs, or perhaps because virus droplets can survive for longer in cold, dry air.

Other forms of coronavirus, like the original severe acute respiratory syndrome known as SARS, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, MERS, also appeared to thrive in colder temperatures and drier climates. “With MERS, it’s been pretty well-accepted that as temperatures go up and humidity goes up, the viruses remain viable in the environment for a shorter amount of time,” said Gregory Glass, a professor at the University of Florida and a member of the Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Four types of mild coronaviruses that cause the common cold, also follow the same pattern. ‘They phase like influenza, peaking in Jan/Feb and disappearing in summer,” said Jeffrey Shaman, director of the climate and health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in an email.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this coronavirus will behave the same way. Researchers just aren’t sure yet. “I would like to differentiate this pandemic stage from an established virus,” said Kristie Ebi, professor of global health at the University of Washington. “Right now, this is new. It’s novel.”

Ebi pointed out that several countries increasingly gripped by the virus, including Brazil and Singapore, have generally high temperatures. The fact that there have been more COVID-19 cases in temperate regions might be tied to patterns of travel and trade, not warmer, humid weather. “In many of the countries that are warmer, there’s only been a fairly recent introduction” of the virus, she said.

According to Glass, the biggest question is whether the virus is transmitted more in the environment — by touching a contaminated object, for example — or through person-to-person contact. If the virus is mostly passed through objects and the environment, warmer temperatures and more humid conditions could slow its spread. “But to my mind, we don’t have anywhere near that kind of information” on how the virus spreads, he said.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 15, 2020 at 7:32am

#Pakistan Health Chief says #Coronavirus cases fatality rate ‘very low in Pakistan’. Actual #COVID19 cases by April 14 is 5,716 vs prediction of 18,000. Death rate 1.7% vs global avg of 6.2%. Sindh #lockdown very early stage but situation in Punjab better.https://tribune.com.pk/story/2197999/1-covid-19-cases-fertility-rat...

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza on Tuesday said the COVID-19 cases’ fatality rate reported in Pakistan was very low at 1.7% against the global figure of 6.2%.

In a briefing on COVID-19, he said the reason behind low number of deaths in Pakistan as compared to other countries was due to the immediate measures taken by the government to control the outbreak under the supervision of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

He said it was a sign of relief that despite the prediction of 18,000 COVID-19 positive cases in Pakistan by April 14, the reported cases were 5,716 so far, which were two-third lower than the expected trend.
Similarly, the figure of expected deaths was 191 in the country as of Tuesday while the actual deaths reported were 96 so far. He added the government has tried its best to control the disease.

He said although Sindh had taken measures at a very early stage, the situation in Punjab was better. He added the overall steps taken at the national level resulted in better control over the disease.

He, however, said all the countrymen have a role to play in controlling the disease as still there were threats and fluctuation in the figure of daily deaths’ number.

Dr Mirza said the first coronavirus case was reported very late in Pakistan as compared to other countries on February 26, while the first meeting of National Security Council (NSC) was held on March 13, to make major decisions over the situation.

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 18, 2020 at 7:18am

Sunlight destroys #coronavirus 'very quickly,' new government tests find, but experts say #pandemic could still last through summer. #COVID19

https://news.yahoo.com/sunlight-destroys-coronavirus-very-quickly-n...

Preliminary results from government lab experiments show that the coronavirus does not survive long in high temperatures and high humidity, and is quickly destroyed by sunlight, providing evidence from controlled tests of what scientists believed — but had not yet proved — to be true.

A briefing on the preliminary results, marked for official use only and obtained by Yahoo News, offers hope that summertime may offer conditions less hospitable for the virus, though experts caution it will by no means eliminate, or even necessarily decrease, new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The results, however, do add an important piece of knowledge that the White House’s science advisers have been seeking as they scramble to respond to the spreading pandemic.

The study found that the risk of “transmission from surfaces outdoors is lower during daylight” and under higher temperature and humidity conditions. “Sunlight destroys the virus quickly,” reads the briefing.

While that may provide some good news about the outlook for outdoor activities, the Department of Homeland Security briefing on the results cautions that enclosed areas with low humidity, such as airplane cabins, “may require additional care to minimize risk of transmission.”

In a statement to Yahoo News, the DHS declined to answer questions about the findings and strongly cautioned against drawing any conclusions based on unpublished data.


---------

While the lab results are new, scientists for many weeks have predicted, based on available data on the disease’s spread, that warmer, wetter climates would be less hospitable to the spread of the coronavirus. An early analysis by scientists observed that the virus was spreading more slowly in countries with warmer climates.

“We are not saying that at higher temperatures, the virus will suddenly go away and everything would be fine and you are going out,” Qasim Bukhari, a computational scientist at MIT and a co-author of the analysis, told Yahoo News in an interview. “No, we are not saying it. We are just seeing that there is a temperature- and humidity-related dependency, but I think many people now have started to realize this.”

Bukhari said that since he and his colleagues published that analysis, the numbers on the coronavirus’s spread continue to support their contention. “They are doing a lot of tests now in India. Also, when you look at the numbers in Pakistan it’s the same. There are more than 5,000 cases in Pakistan right now,” he said. “But the increase is not as rapid as you see in other countries.”

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