World

WHO confirms 'emerging evidence' of airborne spread of virus

UN health agency warns pandemic still accelerating as scientists say virus can travel far beyond 2m

GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed on Tuesday 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 2m.

The 2m physical distancing guideline has been a major element in the fight against Covid-19, which has killed more than 538,000 people and infected over 11.6 million since it emerged in China last December.

Meanwhile, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic was showing no signs of slowing down, after 400,000 new cases were reported over the weekend. It took 12 weeks for the world to reach the first 400,000 Covid-19 cases.

"The outbreak is accelerating and we've clearly not reached the peak of the pandemic," Dr Tedros said.

"While the number of deaths appears to have levelled off globally, in reality some countries have made significant progress in reducing the number of deaths, while in other countries deaths are still on the rise."

The virus has "taken the world hostage", he concluded.

On Monday, a group of 239 international scientists said exhaled droplets under five micrometres in size that contain the virus can become suspended in the air for several hours and travel up to tens of metres.

WHO's technical lead on infection control Benedetta Allegranzi told a virtual press conference: "We acknowledge that there is emerging evidence in this field.

"We believe that we have to be open to this evidence and understand its implications regarding the modes of transmission and also regarding the precautions that need to be taken," she said.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's Covid-19 technical lead, said the UN health agency was producing a scientific notice consolidating growing knowledge around transmission.

"We will be issuing our brief in the coming days, and that will outline everything that we have in this area," she said.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro - who repeatedly flouted virus containment measures and minimised the risk - said on Tuesday he had tested positive for Covid-19.

The WHO sent him its best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.

"It brings home for us all the reality of this virus: no one is special," said the WHO's emergencies director Michael Ryan.

"Whether we're prince or pauper, we're equally vulnerable."

US LEAVING WHO

Meanwhile, the US will leave the agency on July 6 next year, the UN said on Tuesday, after receiving notification of the decision by President Donald Trump, who has accused the agency of becoming a puppet for China during the pandemic.

Mr Trump, who announced the decision over a month ago, has to give one-year notice of the US withdrawal from the Geneva-based body and pay all Washington's dues .

The US currently owes the WHO more than US$200 million (S$280m). - AFP, REUTERS

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