WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

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Beds are pictured inside a newly built recovery centre for Covid-19 coronavirus patients, in Mumbai on July 7, 2020. India on July 6 became the country with the third-highest coronavirus caseload in the world, as a group of scientists said there was now overwhelming evidence that the disease can be airborne -- and for far longer than originally thought. (AFP)
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The World Health Organization acknowledges that there is "emerging evidence" on airborne transmission of the new coronavirus, after an international group of scientists said it could spread far beyond two metres. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2020

WHO acknowledges ‘evidence emerging’ of airborne spread of COVID-19

  • WHO previously said the virus spreads through droplets expelled from the nose and mouth that quickly sink to the ground
  • New evidence shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in

GENEVA: The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged “evidence emerging” of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus, after a group of scientists urged the global body to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease passes between people.
“We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,” Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, told a news briefing.
The WHO has previously said the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease spreads primarily through small droplets expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground.
But in an open letter to the Geneva-based agency, published on Monday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal, 239 scientists in 32 countries outlined evidence that they say shows floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in.
Because those smaller exhaled particles can linger in the air, the scientists are urging WHO to update its guidance.
Speaking at Tuesday’s briefing in Geneva, Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said there was evidence emerging of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, but that it was not definitive.
.”..The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings — especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out,” she said.
“However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.”
Any change in the WHO’s assessment of risk of transmission could affect its current advice on keeping 1-meter (3.3 feet) 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.
Van Kerkhove said the WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days.
“A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission,” she said.
“This includes not only physical distancing, it includes the use of masks where appropriate in certain settings, specifically where you can’t do physical distancing and especially for health care workers.”


Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

Updated 05 August 2020

Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

  • The Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals with pickaxes and crowbars in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence
  • The violence left some 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims

AYODHYA, India: Despite the coronavirus restricting a large crowd, Hindus rejoiced Wednesday as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke ground on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god, Ram, at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque.
Modi offered prayers to nine stone blocks with Ram inscribed on them and kept in a small pit amid chanting of Hindu religious hymns to symbolize the start of construction of the temple, which is expected to take 3 1/2 years to complete. The blocks will serve as the monument’s foundation stones.
Modi wore a traditional outfit of a gold Kurta, a long shirt and a white Dhoti — a loose cloth wrapped around his waist — along with a face mask. Before the start of the ceremony, he prostrated before a small idol of the god Ram that was kept in a makeshift temple set up by Hindu nationalists at the site where the mosque was demolished in 1992.
“It’s an emotional and historic moment. Wait has been worthwhile,” said Lal Krishna Advani, a 92-year-old leader of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, who was at the forefront of the party’s temple campaign in the 1990s.
Organizers said the ceremony was set on an astrologically auspicious date for Hindus, but Wednesday also marked a year since the Indian Parliament revoked the semi-autonomous status of its only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.
The symbolism was impossible to miss since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had long pledged in its manifesto to strip Kashmir’s autonomy and to build a temple to Ram where the Mughal-era mosque once stood.
Modi said in a speech that the ceremony was a “historic occasion” for which Hindus waited for centuries.
He recalled that Mohandas Gandhi, India’s independence leader, fondly referred to “Ram Rajya (rule)” as an ideal state where values of justice and equality prevailed and even the weakest people could get justice.
He said the proposed temple will become a symbol of “modern India.”
The main roads of Ayodhya were barricaded and about 3,000 paramilitary soldiers guarded the city, where all shops and businesses were closed. Last week, a priest and 15 police officers at the temple site tested positive for the coronavirus, which has infected 1.9 million people in India and killed more than 39,000.
“Had this function been held on normal days, all these roads would have been chock-a-block with people. Millions of people would have come to Ayodhya to witness this historic event,” temple priest Hari Mohan said.
Only 175 religious saints, priests and Hindu and Muslim community representatives were invited to the ceremony. But many, including senior leaders of Hindu nationalist organizations, weren’t wearing masks, or were wearing them improperly.
Water from Indian rivers in 2,000 earthen pots sent by various Hindu temples and Sikh shrines was poured at the site.
The groundbreaking follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last November favoring the building of a Hindu temple on the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh state. Hindus believe Ram was born at the site and claim Muslim Emperor Babur built a mosque on top of a temple there.
The Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals with pickaxes and crowbars in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. The Supreme Court’s verdict allowed a temple to be built in place of the demolished mosque.
Those invited to the groundbreaking ceremony included Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the BJP’s parent organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Iqbal Ansari, the main Muslim litigant in the Supreme Court case, who now supports building the temple in Ayodhya.
The court also ordered that Muslims be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site.
The temple will be around 235 feet (72 meters) wide, 300 feet (91.5 meters) long and 161 feet (49 meters) high with five domes with a total area around 84,000 square feet (7,804 square meters). The complex will also have a prayer hall, lecture hall, visitors’ hostel and museum.
Houses and other buildings close to the temple site were painted yellow to recreate the look when Ram ruled there for thousands of years, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.
“Yellow is an auspicious color. As per Hindu tradition, yellow symbolizes purity and light,” temple priest Mahant Kamal Narain Das said.
Muslims comprise about 14% of Hindu-majority India’s population of 1.3 billion. The temple-mosque dispute badly divided Hindus and Muslims, often triggering communal clashes.
Prominent Muslims have said the community was resigned to the new reality but fear the new temple could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in Uttar Pradesh.