Unpredictable COVID-19: 239 Scientists warn ‘ It can be airborne,’ WHO to review

A New York Times (NYT) report, quoting a study by scientists, has created a fresh debate over transmission mode of COVID-19. ‘ Coronavirus is airborne.’ A group of scientists, based on their study, have urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to revise recommendations. The WHO has said the coronavirus disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or speaks.



The coronavirus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled, the scientists said, according to the NYT. Hundreds of scientists say there is evidence that novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people. In an open letter to the WHO, which the researchers plan to publish in a scientific journal next week, 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined the evidence showing smaller particles can infect people, the NYT said.

Because those smaller particles can linger in the air, the scientists are urging WHO to update its guidance. 

Any change in the WHO's assessment of risk of transmission could affect its current advice on keeping 1-metre (3.3 feet) of physical distancing. Governments, which rely on the agency for guidance policy, may also have to adjust public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

Reacting to the suggestions of the scientists, WHO Spokesperson reportedly said that the agency is aware of the article and would review its contents with its technical experts. Although the WHO has said it is considering aerosols as a possible route of transmission, it has yet to be convinced that the evidence warrants a change in guidance.

Experts are of the view that if the virus can hang in the air for long periods of time, even after an infected person leaves that space, that could affect the measures healthcare workers and others take to protect themselves. WHO guidance to health workers, dated June 29, says SARS-CoV-2 is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets and on surfaces.

But airborne transmission is possible in some circumstances, such as when performing intubation and aerosol-generating procedures,  the WHO says. They advise medical workers performing such procedures to wear heavy duty N95 respiratory masks and other protective equipment in an adequately ventilated room.