Coronavirus airborne? Evidence 'not enough', says health dept

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 07 2020 11:08 AM | Updated as of Jul 07 2020 11:42 AM

A passenger wearing a mask for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) boards the jeepney, while another sprays disinfectant on her seat, in Quezon City, July 3, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA — The health department said Tuesday there was "not enough" evidence yet to back a report by more than 200 scientists who warned the novel coronavirus can spread in tiny airborne particles, which should change pandemic guidelines. 

In an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday, 239 scientists in 32 countries said floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in. Because those smaller particles can linger in the air, the scientists urged the Geneva-based agency to update its pandemic guidance. 

"We are studying all of these articles that are coming out everyday and still there are not enough evidence at this moment to specifically say that it is already airborne," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told ANC. 

"We are still working on that concept that COVID is transmitted via droplet infection," she added. 

The WHO says SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads primarily through small droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground.

Even in its latest update on the coronavirus, released June 29, the WHO said airborne transmission of the virus is possible only after medical procedures that produce aerosols, or droplets smaller than 5 microns. 

Any change in the WHO's assessment of risk of transmission could affect its current advice on keeping 1-meter of physical distancing. Governments, which rely on the agency for guidance policy, may also have to adjust public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. 

VIRUS MUTATED? 

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The health department is "still gathering more evidence" on a separate study saying that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases may be partly due to a mutation in the novel coronavirus that makes it at least 3 times more infectious, said Vergeire. 

"The evidence is not complete yet... It has been stated in that article that they still need to have these reviews before they can really provide the public with complete information," she said. 

The health department on Tuesday confirmed a record-high jump in "fresh cases" or those whose results were released in the last 3 days, which brought the total tally to 46,333. 

Local cases of the COVID-19 may surpass the 100,000-mark by the end of August, an expert from the University of the Philippines said. 

"These numbers that we are having right now should make people more cautious. This is not just because we are testing more, but because there are really clustering of cases that we have been identifying for these past days and also, there is really community transmission," said Vergeire. 

An inter-agency task force on Monday met with mayors in Metro Manila, a virus hotspot, about pandemic guidelines that allow them to lockdown specific areas, she said. 

"We need to balance it (lockdown) off, not just for health, but also for the economy," she said. 
 
With reports from Agence France-Presse; Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News