Cape Town — The World Health Organisation has responded to an open letter by a group of scientists urging the WHO to address the possibility of COVID-19 virus being airborne.

The letter open with: “We  appeal  to  the  medical  community  and  to  the  relevant  national  and  international  bodies  to recognize the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19. 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 WHO technical leads spoke to the letter during the organisation’s daily briefing on the pandemic.

“We have discussed and collaborated with many of the signatories over the past few months – and received contributions from many of the signatories. We acknowledge that there is emerging evidence in this field, as in all other fields, regarding the COVID-19 virus and pandemic, and therefore we believe we have to be open to this evidence and understand its implications regarding the modes of transmission and also regarding the precautions that need to be taken,” said Professor Benedetta Allegranzi, WHO’s Technical Lead for Infection Prevention and Control on Tuesday.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove went on to say that a “comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission”.

“This includes not only physical distancing, it includes the use of masks where appropriate in certain settings, specifically where you can’t do physical distancing and especially for health care workers,” the WHO’s Van Kerkhove said.

The WHO is producing a scientific brief summarizing their findings and research on transmission after engaging with epidemiologists and clinicians, IPC specialists, engineers, and mathematical modellers.

“We’ve been working on this for several weeks now. We’re also looking at the possible role of airborne transmission in other settings, particularly close settings where you have poor ventilation. We will be issuing our brief in the coming days, and it will outline everything we have in this area,” Van Kerkhove said.

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