Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged that the Coronavirus can also be airborne. After denying for more than a year, the WHO finally updated the mode of Covid-19 transmission and said that the disease can be an airborne threat. It said, “the virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than 1 metre (long-range)”. For almost a year now, scientists all over the world have known that the SARS-CoV-2 can be airborne for a short distance for some time, but the WHO had refused to acknowledge that.
It may be noted that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA had also admitted earlier this month that the Covid-19 virus can be airborne, after denying the same for a year.
On March 28 2020, the WHO, the global health watchdog, took to social media to put out a post, “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne”. In its post, the WHO claimed that the coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. For the scientists of WHO, Covid-19 was not airborne, and one could not contract the disease if they followed necessary protocols.
Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech and an infectious disease expert, had her doubts regarding WHO’s so-called fact-check. For Marr, who had analyzed the initial results of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, it looked like the virus may stay in the air for longer, infecting anyone who breathed in enough of it. For people indoors, that posed a considerable risk. Soon, Marr joined with 35 other aerosol scientists to try and warn the WHO it was making a big mistake.
According to a detailed report by website – The Wired, for the next few days, the scientists analyzed the list of superspreading events in restaurants, call centres, cruise ships, and a choir rehearsal, instances where people got infected to Covid-19 even when they were far away from a contagious person. The incidents contradicted the WHO’s main safety guidelines, i.e., keeping 3 to 6 feet of distance between people and frequent handwashing.
If SARS-CoV-2 travelled only in large droplets that immediately fell to the ground, as claimed by the WHO, then how would people far away from each other caught the infection, the scientists pondered. They argued that the infectious air was the reason for the infection. However, the WHO’s experts were in no mood to listen to these scientists. To declare Covid-19 could well be airborne, the scientists wanted more direct evidence, which could take months to gather. Meanwhile, thousands of people were falling ill every day as the virus was abundant in the air.
Lidia Morawska, a revered atmospheric physicist, also tried to explain how far infectious particles of different sizes can travel. Shockingly, WHO experts abruptly cut her off, arguing that she was wrong.
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