UK scientists to test extent of airborne COVID-19 transmission

A team of UK scientists is set to discover how long COVID-19 can survive in airborne particles. (File/AP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

UK scientists to test extent of airborne COVID-19 transmission

  • COVID-19 is known to be present in droplets produced from the mouth and nose from people coughing, sneezing, talking or just breathing
  • Findings could affect governments’ safety measures based on climate, air quality

LONDON: A team of UK scientists is set to discover how long COVID-19 can survive in airborne particles.
In an experiment slated to commence on Monday, researchers at the University of Bristol will test whether the virus is at its most virulent in respiratory droplets, or whether it remains active over significant periods in tiny aerosol particles.
COVID-19 is known to be present in droplets produced from the mouth and nose from people coughing, sneezing, talking or just breathing.
But these remain airborne, and therefore active, for a much shorter period of time than aerosol particles before dropping to the floor.
This is the reasoning behind multiple governments’ enforcing social-distancing measures of 2 meters, among other things. 
But were the virus able to survive in much smaller aerosol particles, it is possible that it could travel greater distances — carried by air currents and ventilation systems — and infect more people, rendering social-distancing measures less effective. 
The theory has gained traction as examples from across the world of groups of people being infected despite observing social-distancing measures, or doing so in poorly ventilated spaces.
Prof. Jonathan Reid, who is leading the Bristol team, told The Guardian newspaper: “We know that when bacteria or viruses become airborne in respiratory droplets they very quickly dry down and can lose viability, so that’s an important step to understand when assessing the role of airborne transmission in COVID-19.”
Allen Haddrell, a scientist at the University of Bristol, said: “We can effectively mimic a cold, wet British winter — or even a hot, dry summer in Saudi Arabia — to look at how these dramatic differences in environmental conditions affect how long the virus remains infectious while suspended in air.”
Results will possibly ready by the end of the week for external scrutiny by the broader scientific community.
Despite excitement surrounding the experiment, some scientists have urged caution, especially regarding the scope of practical applications that could result from it.
“I think the science is fine, and will show the principal that you can modify the environment to reduce the survivability of the virus,” said Dr. Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
“But the applicability might be tricky, depending on the environmental factors they identify. You’re not going to sit in a theater or cinema if the temperature is 35 degrees and the humidity is 80 percent.”


Arrest warrants issued for founders of Panama Papers firm: report

Updated 3 min 51 sec ago

Arrest warrants issued for founders of Panama Papers firm: report

  • The Panama Papers, a massive data leak in April 2016, exposed widespread tax avoidance and evasion

BERLIN: Germany has issued international arrest warrants for the two founders of the firm at the center of the tax haven scandal exposed by the Panama Papers data leak, German media reported.
Mossack Fonseca founders Juergen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, suspected of tax evasion and associating with criminals, will be arrested if they enter the European Union, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported late Monday.
The two men hold Panamanian passports and are currently in the Caribbean archipelago which does not have any extradition treaties, the newspaper said.
However, investigators hope that Mossack, who has family in Germany, may surrender to officials in order to negotiate a reduced sentence and avoid US charges.
The Panama Papers, a massive data leak in April 2016, exposed widespread tax avoidance and evasion using complex structures of offshore shell companies and caused an international outcry.
At least 150 investigations have been opened in 79 countries to examine potential tax evasion or money laundering, according to the American Center for Public Integrity.
In 2018, Mossack Fonseca said it would close due to “irreparable damage” to its reputation. Panama’s government meanwhile continues to petition the international community to remove it from several tax haven blacklists.