- The coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed at least 1,000 people and infected more than 42,000. While the vast majority of cases are in China, the virus has spread to 26 countries.
- US President Donald Trump on Monday said “a lot of people” – including Chinese President Xi Jinping – thought the coronavirus would go away in April.
- Coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses like the flu do tend to retreat in hotter, more humid weather.
- But even if the new coronavirus naturally subsides come spring, the virus could return in the winter.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
President Donald Trump on Monday issued an optimistic prediction about the novel coronavirus outbreak. “A lot of people think that goes away in April, with the heat that comes in,” he said.
Speaking with US governors at the White House about the coronavirus, the president added: “I had a long talk with President Xi – for the people in this room – two nights ago, and he feels very confident. He feels that, again as I mentioned, by April or during the month of April, the heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus.”
Since the coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China, in December, it has killed at least 1,000 people and infected more than 42,600. Though the vast majority of cases are in China, the virus has spread to 26 countries, including the US.
Trump and Xi’s hopes that the virus could taper off in the warmer months are not off base.
Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, previously told Business Insider how four coronaviruses that circulate in people – viruses that cause mild colds – had seasonality much like the flu.
So cases of the new virus “may temper off as we leave spring and enter summer,” Adalja said.
But that doesn’t mean it would disappear forever. More likely, the virus could retreat in the spring and summer and return come fall and winter.
“If you look at the trajectory of the virus and how it’s spreading in communities, coupled with the fact that we deal with coronaviruses every year during flu and cold season, those factors point to this coronavirus becoming a seasonal virus,” Adalja said.
‘The 5th community-acquired coronavirus’
Trump’s comments on Monday echo a tweet the president posted Friday after talking to Xi.
“He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days,” Trump tweeted. “Nothing is easy, but … he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.”
Last week, S&P Global made a similar prediction, saying it expected the coronavirus outbreak to “stabilise globally in April 2020, with virtually no new transmissions in May.”
It added: “Our worst-case projection holds that the virus stops spreading in late May, and optimistically in March.”
The coronavirus, whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV, is a respiratory illness with pneumonia-like symptoms. It spreads via coughing and close contact between people. The four other coronaviruses that are endemic, or permanently present, in the global human population all cause common colds, though each can cause pneumonia and death in rare instances.
According to Adalja, the new virus could easily become a member of the club of constantly circulating, endemic coronaviruses.
“We have to be prepared for this to become the fifth community-acquired coronavirus,” he said.
That means the virus would most likely resurface later in the year.
Why the coronavirus could become seasonal like the flu
The flu virus “survives better in cool, dry temperatures,” Amanda Simanek, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, told Insider.
It’s seasonal in this way because cooler temperatures help harden a protective gel-like coating that surrounds the virus while it’s in the air. A stronger shell ensures it can survive long enough to travel from one person to the next.
But whereas the flu virus’ genes change via a process called antigenic drift, coronaviruses are “somewhat less prone to mutation than flu,” Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, told Business Insider. (Each small mutation of the flu, on the other hand, gives rise to a new, closely related flu virus that our immune systems have to start fighting from scratch – that’s why flu vaccines aren’t always 100% effective.)
But not all health experts agree that the coronavirus is likely to weaken in April.
“It’s a respiratory virus, and we know respiratory viruses are very seasonal, but not exclusively,” William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told CNN. “One would hope that the gradual spring will help this virus recede. We can’t be sure of that.”
Of Trump’s remarks, he added: “His hope is our hope. But we don’t have knowledge that it will do that.”
- Read more about the Wuhan virus:
- Everything we know about the deadly Wuhan virus sweeping across China
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- The genetic code of the Wuhan coronavirus shows it’s 80% similar to SARS. New research suggests a potential way to neutralise the virus.
- The Wuhan coronavirus has killed more people in 6 weeks than SARS did in 8 months. Here’s how the 2 outbreaks compare.