WMO Climatological, Meteorological and Environmental Factors in the COVID-19 Pandemic Symposium

Prof Emily Chan and Mr C S Wong of CCOUC team joined a 3-day virtual Climatological, Meteorological and Environmental Factors in the COVID-19 Pandemic Symposium jointly organised by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Advancing Earth and Space Science (AGU) during 4-6 August 2020. Prof Emily Chan was invited as an expert member of the WMO World Meteorological Organization Task Team for COVID-19. This international symposium drew more than 600 experts from around the globe to examine what is known and what can be reliably predicted about the role of environmental variables’ influence on the trajectory and potential seasonality of COVID-19 from global, hemispheric, regional, and local perspectives.

The symposium has the following objectives:

The first day of the symposium aimed to place environmentally and meteorologically informed COVID-19 prediction into the broader context of what is understood about the potential sensitivities of the disease. Keynote sessions by Professor Aaron Bernstein of Harvard University and Professor Rachel Lowe of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine explored COVID-19 and environmental change, and the current knowledge and motivation for studying the role of climate in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The panel also offered focused discussion on current understanding of the possible meteorological and environmental sensitivities of the virus, its transmission, and the severity of symptoms, and considered this state of understanding in the context of information needed to combat the pandemic.

During the second day, the problem of integrating meteorological and environmental information to COVID-19 forecasts was examined. Keynote sessions by Dr Madeleine Thomson of Wellcome Trust and Professor A. J. Smit of the University of the Western Cape addressed the issue of forecasting in the context of the generation and communication of early warning systems for other diseases including Malaria, co-benefits of climate action on vulnerabilities to COVID-19, and the potential seasonality of COVID-19. A review of published or otherwise public efforts to characterize COVID-19 sensitivities to environment and meteorology was also offered to provide an overview of the current state of forecast capabilities. Besides, panel experts discussed the potential and limitations of various approaches to integrating environmental and meteorological information to COVID-19 forecasts. A breakout session was also held at the end for participants to join structured discussions of the roles that various factors (including meteorology, seasonality, air quality, ecosystems, social determinants etc.) might play in the trajectory of the pandemic.

The third day of the symposium built on the scientific presentations and discussions from Day 1 and Day 2 to address the issue of informing action. Key questions explored by keynote speaker Dr Tiantian Li of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention include the ways that current environmentally and meteorologically informed forecasts can be used to aid decision-makers, the benchmarks that decision-makers have for actionable forecasts, and the ways that such forecasts influence management of the pandemic. These motivating questions were addressed from the perspective of COVID-19 experience and response in China. Additionally, the expert panel in disease response, risk communication, and forecast dissemination discussed key goals for COVID-19 forecasts and addressed the challenge of communicating forecasts in the presence of deep uncertainty. A breakout session themed according to region was also carried out to review the state of forecast communication in various regions and identify information needs specific to regional context. Finally, the symposium concluded with a summary of symposium outcomes and called for next steps in research and operations.