The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Covid-19 Research Task Team has issued a series of recommendations about the interplay between the virus and meteorological and air quality factors.
It is hoped that the report can serve as a blueprint for informing global responses to future public health emergencies and pandemics.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, several national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHS) sought to provide useful and actionable information to help understand and manage the pandemic and related decision-support.
Given that little was known about the influence of environmental factors on disease transmission, at the beginning of the pandemic the WMO created a COVID-19 Research Task Team on appropriate use of meteorological, climate and air quality information.
The Research Task Team has now provided an overview of knowledge, reflections and lessons learned. It updates the current state of understanding of meteorological and air quality (MAQ) affecting SARS-COV-2 transmission and COVID-19 severity from the First Report of the WMO Covid-19 Task Team, in particular referring to questions about seasonality, air quality and compound hazards.
Overview and recommendations
The influence of MAQ drivers on SARS-CoV-2 transmission and Covid-19 severity remains an active research topic but it appears that other factors, including vaccine coverage, new variants, government interventions and personal protection measures and behaviors, are the major drivers.
However, MAQ information can be used effectively to design and execute Covid-19-related interventions, such as for the logistics of vaccine handling, implementing adequate ventilation or air filtration for indoor spaces, establishment of field hospitals, and management of compound environmental hazards.
Seasonality: The transmission of some respiratory viruses vary seasonally, including influenza and other human coronaviruses, with outbreaks generally occurring during winter months in temperate zones. There is emerging evidence that SARS-CoV-2 transmission may be favored under wintertime conditions in temperate regions, due to greater concentration of people in less well-ventilated indoor areas. However, one cannot assume reduction in risk during warm seasons, as other factors can dominate the seasonal influence on overall risk profiles.
Air quality: A number of epidemiological studies have suggested that long-term exposure to air pollutants, including particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), is associated with more severe Covid-19 symptoms and higher likelihood of death. Evidence regarding the influence of short-term air pollution exposure to Covid-19 risk is still emerging.
Compound hazards: The Covid-19 pandemic combined with weather and climate risks to create multiple major compound hazard events that challenged local authorities to adhere to disease prevention protocols, while managing extreme weather events. Examples include cyclones and hurricanes that necessitated large-scale evacuations, floods that displaced people into temporary housing, and extreme heat events that forced some to find shared climate-controlled environments. Meteorological services have a leading role to play in preparedness for and response to such compound hazard events.
“The positive global response to the pandemic has been underpinned by an unprecedented and unrestricted access to data sets previously unavailable on a routine basis. Such access must continue to ensure that current and future interventions and cross-cutting services can depend on these vital data to help address challenges,” said the briefing note.
According to the task force, the scramble for data and information exchange at the outset of the pandemic emphasizes the need to establish long-term collaboration between the weather, climate and environmental services and public health communities, including academics, practitioners, policymakers and funders. As such, there should be clear corresponding roles and ownership to support critical public health research and response.
The Task Team recommended clear documentation and regular updating of data sets, methods and frameworks for risk assessment. Co-developed integrated climate and disease surveillance systems or observatories can support the effective use of climate science and services in the context of emergencies. Managing expectations and responsibly applying emerging understanding considering a balance of timeliness versus uncertainty is key to addressing current and future emerging public health threats.
“The experience of Covid-19 highlights the need to build on past experience and to address this challenge in appropriate context as new threats emerge,” it said.
To read the full briefing note, click here.