WHO to revisit guidelines for indoor spaces

After evidence that Covid-19 is airborne

Younten Tshedup 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged that there is emerging evidence that the new coronavirus could possibly be airborne.

According to the WHO representative to Bhutan, Dr Rui Paulo de Jesus, WHO’s stand so far has been that Covid-19 primarily spreads through droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of infected persons.

However, he said that the airborne transmission could not be ruled out in crowded, closed or poorly ventilated settings.

“Unlike in an open space where the droplet or the aerosol would be evaporated, it is highly likely that the transmission is possible in poorly ventilated, closed and crowded places.”

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In an open letter to the WHO earlier this week, a group of more than 200 international scientists from 32 countries had accused the global body of underestimating the possibility of airborne transmission.

Dr Rui said that while the WHO has taken into consideration what the scientists have outlined, it would be early to draw a conclusion. He said because Covid-19 is a relatively new virus and in order to understand its behaviour properly, it will take time.

“We would need more convincing evidence to come to a conclusion. We appreciate the research but the evidence is not yet robust,” he said. “However, we have not ruled out their claims. As soon as new information is available, we will disseminate them to the public.”

He said that the WHO recently revised its advisories on the use of face mask based on emerging evidence. “We’re also looking at all other possible modes of transmission.”

If the evidence is confirmed, it may affect current guidelines for indoor spaces.

Dr Rui said that in absence of a vaccine and treatment, the best option available for people is to strictly follow the preventive measures including physical distancing, avoiding crowds, washing hands regularly with soap and wearing face masks.

The preventive measures he said are the bullets that have been proven effective in preventing the spread of the virus. “I’m happy and quite satisfied with the implementation of preventive measures put in place in schools following the reopening.”

Second Wave 

Of late, many countries have reported incidences of a second wave or reemergence of the virus following a decline in positive cases.

Dr Rui said that when people start to relax on their preventive measures and begin activities such as reopening of public spaces, and gatherings, it allows the virus to grow and spread again.

For Bhutan, he said that with the current preventive systems in place and if people adhere to the government’s advisories there should not be any major implications.

“The guidelines we shared with the education ministry for reopening of schools were adequately adopted and applied in the schools,” he said.

However, with the increasing cases in the neighbouring states of India, Dr Rui said that the health ministry and WHO conducted risk assessments in the bordering areas.

“Our conclusion from the assessments is that the risk is high in these areas.”

The government has formed community response teams in the bordering areas that would coordinate and communicate in the event of an emergency.

To prepare for a worst-case scenario, WHO and the health ministry are currently conducting simulation exercises in these high-risk areas to identify and prepare the response measures.

Concurring with the health minister’s recent statement that community transmission for Bhutan is inevitable, Dr Rui said the public should take it seriously and stop being complacent.

“You cannot be complacent now because the war is not over yet.”

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