New WHO guidance calls for more evidence on airborne coronavirus transmission

The latest:

  • New WHO guidance calls for more evidence on airborne transmission.
  • Ottawa delivers grim economic forecast in ‘fiscal snapshot.’
  • Officials warn threat of resurgence in Canada ‘not just hypothetical.’
  • Resort island of Bali reopens after three-month lockdown.
  • Tokyo confirms over 220 new cases, exceeds record daily increase.
  • South Africa prepares 1.5 million graves for potential victims. 

The World Health Organization on Thursday released new guidelines on the transmission of the novel coronavirus that acknowledge some reports of airborne transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, but stopped short of confirming that it spreads through the air.

In its latest transmission guidance, the WHO acknowledged that some outbreak reports related to indoor crowded spaces suggest the possibility of aerosol transmission, such as during choir practice, in restaurants or in fitness classes.

But the WHO said more research is “urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of COVID-19.”

The report follows an open letter from scientists who specialize in the spread of disease in the air — so-called aerobiologists — that urged the UN agency to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease spreads to include aerosol transmission.

WATCH | Respirologist on risk of airborne transmission:

Dr. Samir Gupta says there is not yet enough evidence to show significant spread of the coronavirus through airborne transmission. 5:40

Based on its review of the evidence, the WHO said the coronavirus spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces or close contact with infected people who spread the virus through saliva, respiratory secretions or droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings.

The new guidelines do, however, suggest people should avoid crowds and ensure good ventilation in buildings, in addition to physical distancing, and encourage masks when physical distancing is not possible.

“This is a move in the right direction, albeit a small one. It is becoming clear that the pandemic is driven by super-spreading events, and that the best explanation for many of those events is aerosol transmission,” said Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the letter, which was published on Monday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

In a news briefing on Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is not a lot of solid evidence yet on airborne transmission of the virus known as SARS-CoV-2, but added: “I think it’s a reasonable assumption that it does occur.”

Although incomplete, Fauci said the evidence so far is “the fundamental basis for why we are now so intent on getting people — particularly people without symptoms — to wear masks. To be able to see if we can mitigate against that,” he said.

WATCH | WHO panel to review handling of pandemic:

‘This is a time for self-reflection,’ said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  0:30

Also on Thursday, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark will head a new independent panel tasked with giving “an honest assessment” of the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tedros reiterated his calls for global unity and decried a general lack of leadership, but he made no reference to the Trump administration giving the formal one-year notice this week of its intent to withdraw the United States from the WHO. The U.S. has complained about its early handling of the virus emergency.

What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada

As of 5:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 106,785 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 70,567 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,786.

The federal government delivered Wednesday a grim economic forecast to Canadians in its “fiscal snapshot.”

WATCH | Bill Morneau on $343B deficit, post-pandemic recovery:

Finance Minister Bill Morneau talks to CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about the $343-billion deficit largely created by emergency spending during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the government plans to recover. 3:53

The pandemic has sent the deficit soaring to a historic $343.2 billion, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said. Nearly two million Canadian workers could remain unemployed this year.

Morneau said one of his priorities is to fix the social and economic gaps that left women, young people and racialized Canadians to suffer the biggest economic blows from the coronavirus crisis.

In Ontario where there have been 36,348 confirmed cases, the second highest in the country after Quebec, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Thursday the Ontario government prefers a return to in-class learning for students this September.

Lecce’s statement comes weeks after the province told school boards to prepare for an array of options, including a return to regular class learning, online learning or a combination of both. He says Ontario wants to have all students in class, but health officials must approve.

WATCH | Ontario education minister eyes in-class return for students this fall:

While not fully committing to it, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the government hopes to have conventional, five-day per week classroom learning this fall. 2:42

Here’s what’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases was over 12.1 million as of 5:45 p.m. ET on Thursday. Over 550,000 people have died, while 6.6 million have recovered. The U.S. and Brazil lead case numbers, with a combined total of more than 4.8 million.

As the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States rose to a single-day record, fresh government data on Thursday showed another 1.3 million Americans filed for jobless benefits, highlighting the pandemic’s devastating impact on the economy.

More than 60,000 new COVID-19 infections were reported on Wednesday, and U.S. deaths rose by more than 900 for the second straight day, the highest since early June.

The number of confirmed cases in the country has passed three million — meaning nearly one in every 100 people has been confirmed as infected — and the number of deaths is more than 132,000.

Florida on Thursday announced nearly 9,000 new cases and 120 new deaths, a record daily increase in lives lost. Positive test rates reached a new daily high of 18 per cent, up from 12 to 13 per cent two weeks ago. California and Texas, the most populous states, announced record increases in COVID deaths on Wednesday.

The grim U.S. numbers come on top of extraordinarily high jobless figures, although they came in lower than economists had forecast.

Initial unemployment claims hit a historic peak of nearly 6.9 million in late March. Although they have gradually fallen, claims remain roughly double their highest point during the 2007-09 Great Recession.

WATCH | Infection control specialist on importance of masks: 

Dr. Susy Hota says there is ‘additional emerging evidence’ that wearing a mask may also help protect the user from being infected. 5:58 

With coronavirus cases rising in 41 of 50 U.S. states over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis, many states have had to halt and roll back plans to reopen businesses and lift restrictions. From California to Florida, beaches and bars have been ordered to close. Restaurants in Texas have been told they can have fewer diners.

In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that all Kentuckians must wear masks or other types of face coverings when in public or in certain situations. The executive order will take effect Friday evening.

India reported nearly 25,000 new coronavirus infections Thursday, and its transmission rate is increasing for the first time since March.

The new cases bring the total in the world’s third worst-affected country to 767,296. India’s health ministry said the COVID-19 death toll had risen to 21,129.

Indian medical volunteers take temperatures as they conduct medical screening inside the Dharavi slums to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)

Research by the Institute of Mathematical Sciences in Chennai showed that India’s virus reproduction rate ticked up in the first week of July to 1.19 after steadily falling from peak transmission of 1.83 in March. The rate needs to be below one for new cases to start falling.

India’s infection numbers have skyrocketed since lockdown restrictions were eased. At the same time, testing has ramped up to more than 200,000 samples a day, compared to just a few hundred in March.

WATCH | Indian cook creates flatbreads shaped like masks:

The flatbread or ‘parotta’ made in the shape of a face mask is a small reminder to follow public health guidelines in the city of Madurai, which is in a part of southern India that is seeing a surge in cases of COVID-19. 0:26

Tokyo confirmed more than 220 new cases Thursday, exceeding its record daily increase from mid-April and prompting concerns of widening infections. Tokyo’s more than 7,000 cases are about one-third of the nation’s total.

Experts on Tokyo’s virus task force said the majority of recent cases were linked to nightclubs, but rising infections from households, workplaces and parties raised concerns the virus is spreading in the wider community.

Serbian authorities on Thursday banned gatherings of more than 10 people in the capital Belgrade, after two nights of violent clashes between police and thousands of demonstrators protesting coronavirus lockdown measures.

Serbia’s government crisis team said the restrictions were intended to prevent the virus’s further spread following the clashes, where physical distancing was barely observed and few people wore face masks.

Tokyo confirmed more than 220 new cases Thursday, exceeding its record daily increase from mid-April and prompting concerns of widening infections. (Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)

In addition to limiting gatherings, businesses in closed spaces, such as cafés, shopping malls or shops, have been ordered to operate shorter hours.

Although the new government measures don’t include an originally planned weekend curfew, the limit on gatherings effectively means a ban on protests.

The resort island of Bali in Indonesia reopened Thursday after a three-month virus lockdown, allowing local people and stranded foreign tourists to resume public activities before foreign arrivals resume in September.

Beaches and streets on the island emptied in early April except for special patrols to ensure virus-containment protocols were observed. Authorities restricted public activities, closed the airport and shut down shops, restaurants and many other places.

A man rides his motorcycle past a banner on coronavirus protection measures at Kuta beach in Bali on Thursday. Indonesia’s resort island has reopened to local people and stranded foreign tourists after a three-month lockdown. (Firdia Lisnawati/The Associated Press)

The move comes as infections continue to surge in Indonesia. The nation reported a record of nearly 2,000 new infections in its latest daily update.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is turning himself into a test case for hydroxychloroquine live before millions as he swallows pills on social media and encourages others to do the same.

Bolsonaro said this week that he tested positive for the virus but already felt better thanks to the unproven anti-malaria drug. Hours later, he shared a video of himself gulping down what he said was his third dose.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven anti-malaria drug, to try to cure his coronavirus infection after he tested positive on Tuesday. (Andressa Anholete/Getty Images)

He was again extolling the drug’s benefits on Facebook and claimed that his political opponents were rooting against it.

A string of studies in the United Kingdom and the U.S., as well as by WHO have found chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine ineffective against COVID-19 and sometimes deadly because of their adverse side effects on the heart. Several studies were cancelled early because of adverse effects.

South Africa announced Thursday its highest daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases with 13,674.

Africa’s most developed country is now a hot spot in the pandemic with 238,339 confirmed cases. Gauteng province, which contains Johannesburg and the executive capital, Pretoria, is home to more than a third of the total cases.

Mounds of soil where graves are dug at the Honingnestkrans cemetery, in Pretoria, South Africa, for victims of COVID-19. (Wikus De Wet/AFP/Getty Images)

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa could run out of available hospital beds within the month.

The African continent has more than 523,000 confirmed cases after having passed the half-million mark on Wednesday. But shortages in testing materials mean the true number is unknown.

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