Story at a glance
- The WHO has maintained that the virus is typically transmitted through large respiratory droplets emitted when someone sneezes or coughs, as well as person-to-person contact or indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate vicinity of an infected person.
- But some scientists warned smaller respiratory particles can linger in the air and infect people.
- WHO said it will release a brief on the issue in the coming days.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday acknowledged increasing evidence regarding the possibility of airborne spread of the coronavirus and plans to issue a brief in the coming days, following a letter from hundreds of scientists urging the group to update its guidance on how the virus spreads.
More than 230 scientists representing 32 countries published a letter Monday in the Clinical Infectious Disease journal arguing there is growing evidence that supports that the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that linger in the air. If true, the virus could be especially dangerous in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor spaces, and social distancing and hand-washing measures may only be partially effective.
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“We are concerned that the lack of recognition of the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 and the lack of clear recommendations on the control measures against the airborne virus will have significant consequences,” the scientists wrote. “People may think they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations but in fact, additional airborne interventions are needed.”
The WHO has maintained that the virus is typically transmitted through large respiratory droplets emitted when someone sneezes or coughs, as well as via person-to-person contact or indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate vicinity of an infected person. But the scientists warned smaller respiratory particles can linger in the air and infect people.
“We acknowledge that there is emerging evidence in this field, as in all other fields, regarding the COVID-19 virus and pandemic,” Benedetta Allegranzi, a specialist in infectious diseases and coordinator with the UN agency, said Tuesday during a news briefing.
“The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings, especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described ... cannot be ruled out,” she said. “However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.”
Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said Tuesday the organization has had an active engagement with the scientists who wrote the letter.
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Kerkhove said during the news briefing.
Kerkhove said the WHO would release a brief that includes information about the potential airborne spread of the virus in the coming days.
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