The new coronavirus can spread through the air far beyond two meters, a group of 239 international scientists said on Monday.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged the emerging evidence of airborne spread of the novel coronavirus after an open letter by over 200 scientists outlined evidence that showed floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in.
“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,” Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said at a virtual press conference.
“However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this,” the official said.
So far, the disease was considered to have transmitted through droplets that were transmitted through contact with nose, eyes, and mouth.
On Monday, an open letter to the medical community by 239 scientists published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, urged the medical community, as well as national and international bodies to recognize the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19.
The letter showed evidence that microdroplets and virus particles released by infected patients, during exhalation, talking, and coughing are small enough to remain in the air and pose a risk of exposure at up to 2 meters distance.
“There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room-scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission,” the open letter said.
So far, the Geneva-based agency as well as various other medical bodies encouraged people to regularly wash hands, maintain social distance, and precautions against coming in contact with droplets. They did not recognize airborne transmission of the SARS-COV2, except for aerosol-generating procedures performed in healthcare settings.
However, with various sources of evidence coming in about the airborne transmission of the disease, the WHO has said that it is now considering that possibility.
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s the technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic, said.
If the multilateral agency makes changes to its guidelines on prevention from COVID-19, it will lead to a widespread review of social distancing guidelines across the world. The Indian government itself is advising at least a 1-meter distance between people to prevent the spread