Ex-health chief: New coronavirus may become less infective in warmer weather

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2020 04:10 PM | Updated as of Feb 07 2020 04:29 PM

Pedestrians are seen wearing masks as a precaution against the new coronavirus in Manila, February 5, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The 2019 Novel Coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) may become less infective when the weather gets warmer, a former health secretary said Friday.

"It will probably be affected by the season. As the weather gets better, warmer, then the virus is probably going to be a little less infective," Dr. Esperanza Cabral told ANC's "Early Edition."

An international health expert, in a report on US website Vox, described coronaviruses as "winter viruses."

"When the weather is warm and moist, these viruses don’t spread as well as when the weather is cold and dry," said Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), according to the World Health Organization.

The 2019-nCoV ARD, which originated from a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan that sells exotic animals, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. 

As coronavirus infections continue to rise, Cabral, who served as health chief during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said the outbreak may last for a few months.

"As a matter of fact, the number of cases reported doubles every week. So if this continues by the end of February, we will be looking at 400,000 [infection] cases and 800 deaths from coronavirus in China," she said.

As of Friday, the novel coronavirus has claimed at least 636 lives and infected more than 30,000 others in China as of Friday.

The Philippines, which experiences a "hot dry season" that starts from March to May, has also recorded 3 confirmed cases, including 1 death, all Chinese travelers from Wuhan. The health department is also monitoring 178 people for possible infection, including 147 who were admitted in hospitals.

'AVOID TOUCHING YOUR FACE'

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To stem the spread of the disease, Cabral urged the public to maintain good personal hygiene.

"Avoid touching your face as much as you can because the virus enters through the mucous membranes. It's in our mouth, nose and eyes," she said.

Wearing face mask to ward off the illness is not required, except the sick, health workers and those exposed to crowded places, Cabral said.

Cloth masks, she added, don't work against viral illnesses.

"For viruses, the cloth masks don't work. Cloth masks are okay for dust coming from the Taal Volcano ashfall, but not for preventing viral illness," Cabral said.

Canceling classes or reducing school days due to the threat of the virus is unnecessary, the former health secretary said.

"It's not really necessary. It's an overreaction... What's the use of going to school for 3 days and not going to school for 2 days. On the days when they go to school, they are equally exposed to whatever it is they fear they're going to be exposed [to]," Cabral said.

Asked about the government's response to the outbreak, she admitted that the Department of Health is "always playing catch-up" as the agency is swamped with work.

"They are doing their best. I think we should help them by heeding their advice, by staying calm, because there's no good can come out in panicking... Right now, they need all the help they can get," Cabral said.