The World Health Organization has acknowledged the possibility of airborne spread of the novel coronavirus in an updated scientific brief. They also emphasized that more research evidence was required in this direction.
The world body issued new guidance after acknowledging outbreak reports in indoor crowded spaces indicating the likelihood of transmission of aerosols, such as in restaurants or exercise classes, but the WHO stopped short of agreeing that the virus spreads through the air.
An aerosol is a respiratory droplet so small it may linger in the air.
The possibility of coronavirus spreading in the air has long been dismissed by the WHO except for certain risky medical procedures, such as when patients are first put on respirators
The agency also reported that people who have no symptoms could spread the virus: “Infected people can transmit the virus both when they have symptoms and when they don’t have symptoms,” the agency said.
Previously, WHO had said that asymptomatic transmission was possible “very unlikely,” although it could occur.
WHO’s revised recommendations based on the acknowledgment urges people to follow social distancing strictly. The global population is recommended to avoid crowded spaces and buildings that do not offer good ventilation. In situations where social distancing cannot be maintained ensure masks are worn.
Experts said that while both of the changes made in the brief have been long overdue, they were not as comprehensive as they had hoped.
The acknowledgment from WHO follows an open letter written by more than 200 scientists urging the global body to update its guidelines on how the respiratory disease spreads to include transmission of aerosols.
Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the letter was of the opinion that, “this is a move in the right direction, albeit a small one. It is becoming clear that the pandemic is driven by super-spreading events, and that the best explanation for many of those events is an aerosol transmission.”