Ihekweazu: Indoor airborne spread of Coronavirus possible

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has admitted the possibility that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic might be spread in the air under certain conditions after about 200 scientists’ findings.

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General, NCDC, who disclosed this at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 briefing on Monday in Abuja, said the scientists urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to review its guidelines.

WHO now formally recognised that the Coronavirus could be transmitted indoors by droplets in the air.

WHO said in a scientific brief that people who spent time in crowded settings with poor ventilation ran the risk of being infected by the coronavirus as the droplets circulate throughout the air in indoor gatherings.

The admission came after a crush of criticism from experts pushing the Organisation to update its description of the virus’s spread to include the possibility of airborne infections.

WHO now acknowledges that transmissions via aerosols, or tiny air droplets, could have been behind “outbreaks of COVID-19 reported in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.”

”Besides refraining from having close contact with infected people and frequent hand-washing, the agency says people should “avoid crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.”

Ihekweazu said that the increasing evidences have emerged over the past few weeks that in addition to droplets infection, airborne transmission was also a possible mode of COVID-19 transmission.

“Our understanding of COVID-19 from the very beginning was that it was spread primarily through droplets from the respiratory tracts that and ultimately falls to the ground after few minutes.

“However, as we have studied transmission, studied clusters of these infections we saw increasing evidence of clusters form infections where droplet transmission did not seem to be enough to explain the clusters that we are seeing,” he said.

Ihekweazu explained that diseases that were commonly understood to be spread by airbonone infection were measles and influenza that could be suspended in the air and transmit over long distances.

He said that WHO had updated its guidelines based on the new evidence and Nigeria’s existing guidelines would be reviewed.

“We cannot rule out airbone transmission, and therefore,  we have to act in a precautionary way assuming that this is also possible giving the new evidence that is emerging,” he said.

Ihekweazu further explained that the consequence of the new evidence was that staying together in closed places, clusters such as restaurants, rooms with very poor ventilation would increase the risk of transmission.

“This is a new evidence we will keep adapting our guidelines as we progress. It’s not shameful to change guidelines from week to week as new evidence emerges,” he said.

Ihekweazu urged Nigerians to pay attention to ventilation, distancing and continue to adhere to guidelines on hand hygiene, face mask and mass gatherings.

“Indoor activities are riskier than outdoor activities, especially when there are many people in a room.

”What does this mean for your response, we have to speak even with a louder voice in the things that we have been saying already.

“We have to strengthen further the avoidance of mass gathering or gatherings of any nature in small spaces,” he said.

WHO had previously advised that airborne spread was only common when people, mostly health care workers, were involved in medical procedures that produce aerosols.

However, mounting evidence had surfaced suggesting that the virus could stay in the air for hours and infect a person when inhaled.

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