As the government slowly lifts restrictions on the country, the prohibition on large crowds will continue, and that is because we have a good idea on how the illness is transmitted. The general consensus is that when infected people cough, sneeze or talk, droplets fly into the air and land on other people. This is generally regarded as the reason why there have been major spikes arising from cruise ships, sporting events and workplaces.
Many infectious disease experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have maintained that coronavirus is primarily transmitted through this route. However, a growing number of experts have suggested that another form of transmission is playing a role – that of aerosols.
Whereas droplets immediately fall to the ground or onto a surface, aerosols are microscopic bits of mucus and saliva that linger in the air. They are emitted the same way as droplets but are so tiny and light that they float for some while eventually falling onto the ground or surface. This means coronavirus can hang in the air for hours, but also means a significant concentration of the disease can accumulate in the air.
In early July, over 200 researchers from 32 countries signed an open letter which asked the WHO to accept that there is enough evidence to consider the threat that aerosols pose. If this is the case, keeping two metres apart, hand washing and cleaning surfaces may not be enough. If coronavirus can linger in the air then avoiding crowds altogether and wearing a mask indoors at all times would be a lot more effective.
According to one study coronavirus can be aerosolised and remain like this for as long as 16 hours. Outside of the lab things become a bit more unclear as there are so many variables at play. However researchers have pointed to specific real life scenarios, which they say demonstrates the airborne transmission of coronavirus.
In one case, at a choir rehearsal in the US, over 33 people caught the illness from an infected person even though they all physically distanced. It is suspected that singing and loud speech produce aerosols, and this could have been what drove the infections.
In contrast, three families dined one metre apart from each other in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China. They were all within the airflow of an air conditioning unit. Families sitting away from the airflow did not contract the disease, which is strange if you would expect coronavirus to linger in the stagnant air.
If it is the case that coronavirus can be transmitted by lingering in the air, then more ventilation and filtration systems will be required to dissipate any aerosols in the air. However, the science is still unclear if any filtration systems work well enough to eliminate aerosols in the air from people coughing, singing or shouting near each other.
Although there is some evidence that aerosols transmit the illness, nothing is concrete as of yet, and the WHO has insisted there is no definite proof. The long-term consequences of this development could mean that more businesses continue to work remotely in order to avoid the financial costs of ensuring biosecure workspaces. Many shops, therefore, could end up transferring to having an ecommerce website design instead.
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