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WHO's David Nabarro: 'I am very worried about the next six months'

Nabarro said that the situation in some parts of the world is “disturbing”.

David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on Covid-19.
David Nabarro, WHO special envoy on Covid-19.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE WORLD HEALTH Organization’s special envoy on Covid-19 has said that he is “very worried about the next six months”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Dr. David Nabarro said that the numbers of new cases in Ireland is “encouraging” but that it is important to have clarity on how well different areas are at identifying them. 

“It’s important also to have clarity on how well different counties are at being able to identify new cases of Covid and then make sure people get isolated fast, and then also to trace contacts and isolate them as well,” he said.

I’m pretty much in favour of what’s happening in Ireland right now on these things. And then try to be as public as possible as to what the situation is.

“There’s also a necessity to know how well organised the hospitals are. Have they got good stocks, just in case there’s new outbreaks that come? And also are the residential homes for older people, what you call nursing homes, working properly, you need a kind of a dashboard of indicators to tell you what’s happening.”

Elsewhere, Nabarro said that the situation in some parts of the world is “disturbing”, particular in countries where leaders are downplaying the dangers of Covid-19.

“This is a very serious problem right now and it is advancing across the world extremely rapidly. I am very worried about the next six months,” he said.

“What we learn from this is the absolute need for everybody in each country to do everything they can to stop outbreaks and when they do build up to suppress them really quickly. That doesn’t mean having giant lockdowns, it means having focused attention to where the virus is,” he added.  

Airborne

Nabarro was speaking after the WHO acknowledged that there is “emerging evidence” that the coronavirus might spread by air further than previously thought. 

The acknowledgment came after a group of 239 international scientists said on Monday that exhaled droplets under five micrometres in size that contain the virus can become suspended in the air for several hours and travel tens of metres. 

Nabarro said that the WHO is looking at the evidence for nanoparticles spreading Covid-19. 

“I just want to repeat that the major way in which the disease is transmitted is when somebody who has the virus coughs or sneezes in front of another person who does not have the virus. The particles that are most likely to transmit the virus come out of your lungs and through your throat through expired breath or a cough,” he said. 

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“Normally these droplets fall on the floor. They usually travel for a maximum of one metre out of your mouth. They may go as far as two metres.

There are also some smaller particles that can develop when you’re coughing or sneezing, or even singing loudly. These are called nanoparticles, sometimes they’re called aerosol. And the question that’s been raised is, do these nanoparticles also carry the disease? If somebody coughs and they’ve got it? Because if they do, that’s a bit serious, as the nanoparticles travel much further than the two metres that we’ve been working on. 

Nabarro added there have been reports of spread of Covid-19 that are “hard to explain”, such as a choir practice in Washington states where 61 members of the group caught the virus:

“We’re saying to everybody, do keep an eye open and if you see something that’s a bit strange in terms of transmission pattern, just consider whether it could be airborne, because we need to know the answer.”

The expert said additional steps beyond two-metre distancing may have to take place if airborne transmission is found to be “an important mode of transmission”. 

“Truthfully, we do not have a bundle of evidence that categorically tells us that this airborne transmission is really important. We might get it in due course, but right now we don’t,” he added.

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Rónán Duffy

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