Several hundred researchers around the world are sounding the alarm: viral particles from the new coronavirus could also be transmitted by tiny airborne droplets.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues to spread around the world at a very rapid rate. South Africa has registered more than 10,000 new cases in the past 24 hours, a record which raises fears of an outbreak of infections in the country.
For its part, India has just announced that it has identified a total of nearly 700,000 cases since the start of the epidemic. It thus becomes the third country in the world most affected in number of contaminations behind the United States and Brazil, and before Russia.
To date, more than 11,471,000 cases have been reported worldwide, including more than 534,000 victims, according to the John Hopkins University count. An assessment which could be largely underestimated due to the lack of screening. These new outbreaks of identified cases could be explained by the relaxation of the containment measures put in place in most countries. But other factors could also play a role. What if the virus itself had also been underestimated?
The track had already been proposed before being dismissed. It is coming back to the table today.
According to a team of 239 researchers from 32 countries, SARS-CoV-2 could eventually persist in the air in a room long enough to infect people nearby, the New York Times reported. In other words, the new coronavirus could also be transmitted by air.
A possible route of transmission, however, repeatedly refuted by the World Health Organization (WHO), as we have just said, which maintains that the virus is mainly spread by large droplets after a sneeze or a cough. Dr Benedetta Allegranzi, WHO technical manager for infection control, says there is not enough evidence that the virus has spread by air.
“In the past two months, we have repeatedly stated that we consider airborne transmission to be possible, but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence. There is a strong debate on this subject, “she said, relayed by the New York Times.
In an open letter, which will soon be published in the scientific journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the international team nevertheless urges the WHO to revise its recommendations, while bars, restaurants and other meeting places reopen all over the planet.
If it turns out that the virus can be transmitted by air, then wearing a mask should be necessary even in socially distant environments. For their part, health workers should also need N95 masks capable of filtering even the smallest respiratory droplets.
Researchers are also asking that sufficient and efficient ventilation (providing clean outdoor air, minimizing recirculation of air) be available in public buildings, work environments, schools, hospitals, and retirement homes.
“They will die defending their point of view”
On the other hand, the official publication of such recommendations, while the WHO is in decline, could be more complicated than expected. Indeed, several interviews carried out by the New York Times with about twenty researchers who co-sign this open letter seem to draw an organization (WHO) very “out of step” with science.
The infection prevention and control committee would have too narrow a view of the situation and would therefore be reluctant to take risks in updating its directives. “They will die defending their point of view,” even says a former WHO consultant.