Will Africa see an exponential rise in Covid 19 cases during the winter season

Villagers at Katiula leave the PF meeting because of heavy rains

As countries in the northern hemisphere hard hit by the novel corona virus cling to the hope that warmer weather will bring about a relief and a slowing down of the pandemic , what do the coming winter months hold for countries in the southern hemisphere as they approach their winter months?

Effect of temperature on coronavirus

Scientists do not currently agree on how, air temperature seems to play a role in the transmission of the corona virus. A 2007 research paper published in PLOS Pathogens was one of the first studies to demonstrate how the aerosol spread of influenza virus was dependent upon both ambient relative humidity and temperature.

As the corona virus (COVID-19) began to spread across the world, a group of researchers from the US and Iran found that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2 had significant community spread in cities and regions along a narrow east- west distribution.This was roughly along the 30-50 N degree corridor.Of particular note was the consistently similar weather patterns in these regions. The average temperature being 5-11 degrees Celsius and an absolute humidity of 4-7g/m3.

The yellow green regions experienced exponential growth of covid 19

The type of spread that was seen in this region was much more significant than what was seen in locations with higher populations and areas with more extensive interaction with China.

This would explain why at the start of the pandemic the virus went from China to Iran skipping more densely populated regions like India. It must be pointed out though ,that cases have sprung up everywhere because of the world’s interconnectedness through travel,however a more forceful  growth of cases seemed to be in that zone during the early phases of the pandemic.

In new research from MIT, which used data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the researchers confirmed that the maximum number of coronavirus transmissions has occurred in regions that had temperatures between 3 and 13 °C during the outbreak. In contrast, countries with mean temperatures above 18 °C have seen fewer than 5% of total cases. This pattern also shows up within the US, where southern states like Texas, Florida, and Arizona have seen a slower growth rate than northern states like Washington, New York, and Colorado. California, which spans north and south, has a growth rate that falls in between.

The African situation

As temperatures begin to cool in the southern hemisphere, the same scenarios being played out in the northern hemisphere may be repeated if environmental temperatures have an effect on the virus.

Africa has had a few months head start in this pandemic. We have watched the effects of the Covid-19 in countries in the northern hemisphere and hopefully have learnt enough to see that we may be in a more precarious situation than developed countries.

The public health interventions taking place world wide are meant to flatten the curve– that means to prevent a lot of people from getting very sick at once and therefore overwhelming the health system. But this obviously assumes access to good healthcare in the first place.

In much of Africa, public healthcare is inaccessible to a huge proportion of the population. The African health system is already under strain from endemic infectious diseases and the emerging non infectious diseases. Africa also battles with high HIV infection rates, with more than a third of HIV-infected Africans unaware of their status and therefore not on suppressive medication, and immunocompromised.Governments heavily rely on donor funds to support the health care systems.Unless there is a miraculously fast overhaul of the continent’s healthcare system, flattening the curve will be an impossible feat once the corona virus takes a greater hold in the continent.

The current primary prevention measures of social distancing,hand washing , banning of large groups of people must continue. However in a densely populated continent where many people live in close quarters and do not have access to running water this will be a great challenge.

What does this mean for Africa

Africa has to take more stringent measures than developed countries have done. Africa can not afford to take a lackadaisical approach to mitigating the effects of covid-19. As policy makers draw up plans on the way forward.They must bear in mind that our situation may be worse in winter and should therefore plan for  measures lasting till summer.

The corona virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days so whilst the situation on the ground may appear calm, it is important to know that at the microscopic level the covid 19 is quietly multiplying. Recent modelling based on data from China shows that asymptomatic carriers of the covid-19 may have been responsible for its initial rapid spread there.Therefore Africa can not afford to rely on temperature readings and symptoms when screening travellers from high risk areas. Allowing people from high risk areas to determine for themselves whether they will self isolate or not could have dire consequences for the poor African and our poor health care systems.To survive Africa must nip this scourge in the bud.

By Dr.K Nkanza-Kabaso

The author is a medical doctor specialized in Public Health


  1. A very intelligent article. When the cold weather sets in I equally fear we will have a serious problem. Be safe where ever you are. For some of us older people we have lived so even if I die tomorrow I’m OK but for the younger generation please take care of yourselves this thing is no joke and with the complete break down of infrastructure as a result of selfishness by successive regimes since Independence to present time, my question to them is, will that Luxury SUV you made the govt buy instead of fixing roads and buying medicines be used as a ventilator if you get sick? Can you convert it to a ventilator to save lives? This is what you get when you are selfish and only think of yourself, now where are you going to travel to with your riches you stole? All countries are under lock…

  2. This theory is already debunked …what’s happening in South Africa already tells you the story, already 900+ infected in a hot place within a matter of a few days

  3. Ctn…This is what you get when you are selfish and only think of yourself, now where are you going to travel to with your riches you stole? All countries are under lock down and closing borders. Very shallow thinking. You should’ve improved infrastructure in your own country first before milking it for your own selfish gains.

  4. @shameless South Africa by and large has a temperate climate, about half of the country is below the tropic of Capricorn. So they don’t experience a tropical weather as we do. And around this time it is begging to get very cold there, don’t forget they have very cold winters getting to June in SA where it even snows.

    Iran being in the Northern hemisphere experienced a cold winter which is now ending.

    The theory holds and makes alot of sense.

  5. Whether things will get worse or not it is better to prepare for the worst than be taken by surprise. Close the Zambian boarders.!!! All those who enter from US,Europe,China MUST be quarantined for 14 days. Most of the cases in Zambia were not picked up at the airport.WE can not rely on measuring for fever.Most corona virus carriers do not show symptoms. Failing to plan is planning to fail.Lets not wait for white man to tell us what to do.ACT NOW!!

  6. Africa is not densely populated; however, the density per area is pretty high in most cities (urbanization). Very good article. As the flu season hits it would be prudent for African governments to work on both density matters as well as strengthen primary healthcare – the preventative measures are largely of a hygiene and personal space matter. God Bless this great continent. All will be well if we listen to the science and uphold our resilience.

  7. Some of would like to stay and work from home but we can’t because we have no power from 05:30hrs to 14:00hrs everyday the same happens for water supply. Seriously do you expect anyone who can to stay and work from home like this? Ministry of National Planning which I believe is the ministry that’s supposed to take center stage has willfully kept silent, is the minister qualified enough to his job?

  8. Maharaji – if you had your fact right its not the white man you talk about its the Chinese that caused this virus and has not told us the full info on the virus, infact the US has stuffed up royally now more people sick than the Chinese.

  9. This author used my analysis I mentioned on facebook. I already stated that Zambia and Africa should brace itself for Covid19 as winter approaches. I actually mentioned that most influenza are severe with low temperatures especially on season change over. During body adjustment, somehow bodies loose energy to resist this infection. Of course the learned doc added some more meat graphically which I had actually also observed along those latitudes but never mentioned because it’s a repetition with temperature ranges.

  10. Dr.Anthony Fauci alluded to this on one of the American news networks.Zambia be prepared for June.Cases are already at 22. Thank goodness our cold season is short.WE need to pray that we don’t experience what is happening is the US, Italy and China

  11. Good analysis doc. We may also be lucky that our winters are not that brutal as tempretures can still reach 26 degrees on a sunny june afternoon.

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