There is a large and increasing body of scientific work that points to a high probability of the COVID-19 virus being airborne with the WHO even recently acknowledging the ‘emerging evidence’ of the airborne spread of Coronavirus.
On 6th July a group of 239 international scientists from 32 countries said exhaled droplets under five micrometers in size that contain the virus can become suspended in the air for several hours and travel up to tens of meters.
According to the AFP news agency, the WHO on 7th July pointed to “emerging evidence” that the coronavirus might spread by air further than previously thought, and warned the pandemic was still accelerating.
The WHO said it would put out a new scientific brief within days, after an international group of scientists concluded the virus could travel far beyond two meters (yards).
The finding of the scientists would have implications on the two-meter rule, necessity of face masks, ensuring better ventilation and avoiding crowded rooms or spaces.
Various media reports quoting many experts criticized the WHO for being too slow and bureaucratic in its response to such issues and on setting a very high bar for reports and evidence at a time when the pandemic is moving very fast.
In Bhutan, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said the scientific reports are yet to be evaluated by the WHO and that it remains guided by WHO, which has cautioned that the evidence of the study is preliminary and requires further assessment.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said there is a lot of literature coming on the coronavirus being airborne, but if it is airborne then there might not be huge changes in the prevention measures that the ministry is advocating so far. She said that once that is confirmed, then WHO will come with the recommendation that will be pretty much similar to what the ministry is implementing right now. She said that certain measures though might change in the quarantine facilities.
Lyonpo said if it is airborne, a facemask is needed and hand washing and cough etiquette is required as a preventive measures. WHO has not come up with any recommendation for now. Lyonpo said if the coronavirus is airborne then probably the use of fans and air-conditioners will be an issue, otherwise, physical distancing, wearing facemask, hand washing, contacts and cough etiquette would remain the same.
Lyonpo said as a public health person, the uncertainty of coronavirus is something one should be worried about. Few days back, it is droplets, and today it says it is probably airborne, and tomorrow it might be mutation.
Lyonpo added that the scientific evidence keeps on evolving. It is a new disease, new science is coming up and new evidence is coming up but at the end of the day, preventive measures work.
She said an individual should take their own personal responsibility by wearing a facemask, washing hands, following cough etiquette and if one is sick they should not go to crowded place and they should maintain physical distancing. “These are actually proven for any respiratory diseases including coronavirus. So that is something we know,” said Lyonpo.
“That is why the ministry has been time and again recommending to follow these advisories because this is the science that everyone knows for sure, and that every scientist across the world has agreed that these are what will work and what will help. Now whether airborne, mutation, vaccines, treatment, all that now is uncertain. And then looking at the source of coronavirus, no one knows from where it originated,” Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said.
She said people say the country does not have local transmission right now and why should they wear facemask, but no one really knows, if by chance, there is local transmission.
Lyonpo said nobody can say when local transmission will come, in what manner it will come and how it will come, so prevention is better than cure
“We know that facemask works, so wear it,” Lyonpo added. People are mandated to wear facemask in certain high-risk places. And in other places, the ministry is recommending people wear it.