COVID-19 can be Airborne: What is Airborne Transmission?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday published an updated version of its scientific brief, Modes of transmission of the virus causing COVID-19. In this scientific brief, WHO has acknowledged that there’s a possibility that the spread of COVID-19 may be airborne and that the virus can spread in the air under certain conditions.

Here is the link to the brief:

Until now, people were advised to keep a distance of 1.5 metres since it was known that the virus can spread via droplets. These droplets fall on the surfaces, which is why it was advised to clean surfaces and wash our hands every now and then. This, however, has changed.

But, what is airborne transmission? 

Airborne transmission refers to the ability of a virus to stay in the air via droplets. These droplets are small enough to be suspended, instead of falling on the surfaces.

These droplets, also called aerosols are generally smaller than 5 micrometres in size.  While they remain in the air instead of falling down, they can travel further and can be transmitted via talking.

What happens if the virus is confirmed to be airborne?

  • Airborne virus can be transmitted without any close contact
  • It can travel through air currents and spread through air conditioning
  • Social distancing may not be as effective
  • Congested areas with poor or no ventilation may be breeding grounds for the virus
  • Public transport, bars, restaurants and other crowded spaces will require more intensive social distancing

However, the World Health Organisation has cautioned that this evidence is only preliminary and further assessment will take place. According to their statement on 7 July, WHO said that it will issue new guidelines about transmission in settings with close contact and poor ventilation once the research is complete.