July 10, 2020

COVID-19: WHO to review evidence of airborne transmission

COVID-19: WHO to review evidence of airborne transmission

Announces plans to evaluate world response

By Chioma Obinna

The World Health Organisation, WHO, on Thursday, said it would be reviewing the transmission mode of the ongoing COVID-19 as new evidence indicates that airborne transmission of the virus may be possible indoors even as it announced plans to evaluate the world’s response to the pandemic.

Disclosing this at a virtual press briefing in Geneva, the agency said there are plans to update its advice on the transmission mode of COVID-19 after hundreds of experts urged the agency to reconsider the risk of aerosol transmission.

The Agency’s Technical Lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, while responding to a question an open letter by 239 experts to review its stands on the transmission mode of COVID-19 said WHO welcomes interaction with the scientific community.

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Kerkhove said the group first wrote to the UN agency on April 1, 2020, and there has been “active engagement” since then.

She said: “Many of the signatories are engineers, which is a wonderful area of expertise, which adds to growing knowledge about the importance of ventilation which we feel also is very important.”

Kerkhove explained that experts have been studying the various potential modes of coronavirus transmission, including by airborne or aerosol droplets, “also other channels such as from mother-to-child, and from animals to humans”.

“The agency is producing a scientific brief that consolidates the growing knowledge around this subject, which will be issued in the coming days,” she added.

Benedetta Allegranzi, who leads the WHO’s committee on infection prevention and control said the possibility of airborne transmission, especially in “crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings”, cannot be ruled out.

She said the agency recommends “appropriate and optimal ventilation” of indoor environments, as well as physical distancing.

The scientists recommended that people should avoid overcrowding, particularly on public transportation and in other confined spaces.

“Public buildings, businesses, schools, hospitals, and care homes should also supply clean air, minimise re-circulating air, and consider adding air filters and virus-killing ultraviolet lights.”

Meanwhile, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has announced that the initiation of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, IPPR, will be evaluating the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghebreyesus said the Panel will be co-chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

He said they will be operating independently, they will choose other Panel members as well as members of an independent secretariat to provide support.

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“Prime Minister Clark and President Sirleaf were selected through a process of broad consultation with the Member States and world experts. I cannot imagine two more strong-minded, independent leaders to help guide us through this critical learning process,” he said.

Ghebreyesus said it was time for self-reflection, look at the world we live in and to find ways to strengthen collaboration together to save lives and bring the pandemic under control.

He said the magnitude of the pandemic deserves a commensurate evaluation.

He proposed that a Special Session of the Executive Board be called in September to discuss the Panel’s progress.

“Even as we fight this pandemic, we must be readying ourselves for future global outbreaks and the many other challenges of our time such as antimicrobial resistance, inequality, and the climate crisis.  “COVID-19 has taken so much from us. But it is also giving us an opportunity to break with the past and build back better.”