Environmental conditions  are not the principle drivers of the pandemic. Nonetheless, questions remain as to whether factors such as temperature, humidity, air quality and ultra-violet light influence the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease (COVID-19) that it causes.

Knowledge regarding the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic is of great importance and urgency to governments around the world. Key decisions, with significant economic consequence, are strongly influenced by epidemiological forecasting models, and the spread-modifying factors associated with the physical environment must be accounted for in these forecasts. In the context of known inter-personal transmission mechanisms, among susceptible individuals, in the current wave of the pandemic, how environmental factors should be incorporated into epidemiological models and scenarios remains contested. Early analyses of environmental associations with case increase rates, total case counts, and mortality rates from COVID-19 have yielded mixed and inconclusive results. This can be attributed to a combination of a short data record, limitations in the quality and interpretability of case data, varying methodological approaches, the rapid expansion of the novel disease across the globe, in susceptible populations, the complexity of identifying and disentangling environmental drivers from other factors, and the fact that no country has yet experienced a full year of climate seasonal variation while exposed to SARS-COV-2.

The disease originally manifested in the Northern Hemisphere in early to mid-winter, in places with temperate climates, and spread east and west in an initially quite narrow climate band. This could reflect a climate sensitivity, but could just as plausibly reflect trade and human movement patterns. Indeed, some countries currently facing the highest COVID-19 burdens are located in the tropics and subtropics.

Numerous studies have been released (many not yet peer-reviewed), on this and related topics and hence there is a substantial amount of un-tested information available and a great deal of uncertainty around this issue. Some organizations have commenced with the production of operational data and information, including environmentally-informed forecasts. In this context, there is strong risk of misinterpretation and misleading application in public policy. The fastest way both to filter through this information, and to deal with the uncertainty in this regard, will be to bring the appropriate experts together in a meeting to consider and interrogate the evidence and agree on a common way forward.

Research Board Task Team on COVID-19

First Report of the WMO COVID-19 Task Team

The First Report of the WMO Research Board COVID-19 Task Team, provides an assessment of the state of knowledge of meteorological and air quality (MAQ) factors influencing the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report critically appraises peer reviewed studies on the role of MAQ factors (Temperature, Humidity, Solar radiation, Air Quality, etc.) on the spatial and temporal variability of COVID-19 incidence and severity across climate zones, including clear interrogation of uncertainties. It also assesses the role of changing seasons on the trajectory of the pandemic at a range of time and space scales; and identifies appropriate methods, data and operational issues which can improve good practices in research and climate and environmental services.

The international community was collectively summoned in 2020 to respond to the global spread and impact of the emergent COVID-19 pandemic, now affecting all inhabited continents. The situation has called into action the interdisciplinary infectious disease research community, including a wide range of prominent climate, weather and environmental research institutions to advance understanding of the disease.  Key questions remain unanswered on the relationship of viral transmission to meteorological, climatological and environmental conditions, and on the intensity of symptomology and impact of the COVID-19 disease.

The Research Board is supporting international COVID-19 control efforts by establishing a Task Team to monitor the state of knowledge on COVID-19 and linkages to environmental conditions, including air quality, UV radiation, weather and climatic conditions. This expert group will issue periodic authoritative statements, help inform the immediate global response to COVID-19, foster good practice in interdisciplinary research, and help operationalize predictive modeling if deemed necessary. This effort of the Research Board also aims to open doors for future research support to the World Health Organization and health community at large, as called for in the WMO Resolution 33 – to Advance Integrated Health Science and Services.


Climatological, Meteorological and Environmental factors in the COVID-19 pandemic

This international virtual symposium will help elucidate what is known, understood, and can be reliably predicted about environmental variables’ influence on the trajectory of the COVID-19 epidemic, from global, hemispheric, regional and local perspectives. Symposium outcomes will include a synthesis of the information presented and recommendations for further research at local to global scales.