The coronavirus is landing in South America as summer in the southern hemisphere draws to a close and winter approaches, potentially worsening the spread of the pandemic in Brazil and other parts of the region, medical experts told Reuters.
Little is known about how changes in seasonal weather affect the new coronavirus. But six infectious disease experts in Brazil said that past outbreaks in the country, including the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, point to colder temperatures exacerbating contagion.
Brazil is already the hardest hit country in Latin America, with over 900 confirmed cases by Friday and at least 11 deaths.
Although much of Brazil is tropical, monthly temperatures in parts of the south and southeast can average 5-6 degrees Celsius (41°F-43°F) in June and July. Temperatures start falling in April, when flu infections tend to rise, experts said.
“There’s never a good moment for the coronavirus to arrive… but this is not a good moment,” said Maria da Gloria Teixeira, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Bahia.
The concerns were echoed in other southern hemisphere countries. Australia has had a similar number of confirmed cases as Brazil, but authorities have said they expect them to increase rapidly as winter arrives.
That could also apply to South American countries like Argentina and Chile, which are less populous than Brazil but have colder weather.
“In South America in general, our health care systems have trouble responding to the needs that arise in winter,” said Christian Garcia, a public health specialist at the University of Santiago, Chile.
Argentina, which has so far registered 128 cases of coronavirus, with three deaths, went into full lockdown mode on Friday. The government has shut borders to non-residents, restricted long-distance domestic travel and curtailed large events.