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In Africa, lack of coronavirus data raises fears of 'silent epidemic'

NAIROBI (Reuters) – When the new coronavirus hit Tanzania in mid-April, President John Magufuli called for three days of national prayer to seek God’s protection from the scourge. Barely a month later, he claimed victory over the disease and invited tourists to return to his East African nation.

His rush to reopen came despite alarm from the World Health Organization (WHO) over an almost total lack of information on the spread of the virus in the country of 55 million people, which has one of the region’s weakest healthcare systems.

The shortage of reliable data afflicts many African nations, with some governments reluctant to acknowledge epidemics or to expose their crumbling health systems to outside scrutiny. Other nations simply cannot carry out significant testing because they are so ravaged by poverty and conflict.

Sharing information is vital to tackling the pandemic in Africa – both for planning the response and mobilising donor funding – public health experts say. As things stand, it is impossible to gauge the full severity of the contagion across the continent.

According to the latest data collated by Reuters, Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion people, had over 493,000 confirmed cases and 11,600 deaths. By comparison, Latin America, with roughly half the population, had 2.9 million cases and 129,900 deaths.

The official numbers make it seem as though the illness has skirted much of Africa, but the real picture is certain to be worse, with WHO special envoy Samba Sow warning on May 25 of a possible “silent epidemic” if testing was not prioritised.

By July 7, 4,200 tests per million people had been carried out across the continent, according to a Reuters analysis of figures from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a body set up by the African Union in 2017. That compares with averages of 7,650 in Asia and 74,255 in Europe.

Interviews with dozens of health workers, diplomats and local officials revealed not just a scarcity of reliable testing in most countries, but also the lengths some governments have gone to prevent news of infection rates from emerging, even if that meant they missed out on donor funding.

“We cannot help a country against its own will,” Michel Yao, head of emergency operations for the WHO in Africa, told Reuters. “In some countries, they are having meetings and not inviting us. We are supposed to be the main technical advisor.”  Yao declined to single out countries, saying the WHO needed to preserve a working relationship with governments.

For more details, see this graphic: here

TROUBLE IN TANZANIA

Tanzania confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 16. The next day, the government convened a task force  to coordinate the response with international partners including the WHO, foreign embassies, donors and aid agencies, multiple sources said.

This body never met again with outsiders, two foreign officials familiar with the situation told Reuters, while government officials failed to show up to dozens of subsequent coronavirus-related meetings, they said.

“It’s very clear the government does not want any information about the state of COVID in the country,” said one aid official, who like many of those interviewed by Reuters for this story, asked not to be identified for fear of antagonizing political leaders.

Tanzania’s health minister Ummy Mwalimu and government spokesman did not respond to phone calls or emailed questions raised by this article about their handling of the crisis. The spokesman, Hassan Abbasi, has previously denied withholding information about the country’s epidemic.

Tanzania has not published nationwide figures since May 8, when it had recorded 509 cases and 21 deaths. Days earlier, President Magufuli dismissed testing kits imported from abroad as faulty, saying on national television that they had also returned positive results on samples taken from a goat and a pawpaw fruit.

According to three emails seen by Reuters sent between May 8-13, the WHO believed it had reached an agreement with the government to let it take part in joint surveillance missions around the country. However, a WHO spokeswoman said these were all cancelled on the day they were supposed to start, with no reason given.

Donors have released some $40 million to fund Tanzania’s coronavirus response, two diplomatic sources involved said. But the country’s lack of engagement meant it had missed out on “tens of millions of dollars” more, another official said.

By mid-May, the government decided to ease its lockdown, despite doctors and diplomats saying the outbreak was far from contained. The U.S. Embassy warned its citizens on May 13 that hospitals in the main city Dar es Salaam were “overwhelmed”, an assertion denied at the time by the Tanzanian government.

Tanzania’s failure to share information about its outbreak has frustrated its neighbours, who fear that gains won through painful lockdowns in their own countries could be jeopardized as Tanzanians cross porous borders.

The WHO organised a call on April 23 with African health ministers to discuss, among other things, a lack of information sharing, Yao said. He declined to say who was on the call, and Tanzania did not respond to requests for comment as to whether its minister participated.

The United Nations agency cannot compel cooperation and must tread carefully. When WHO officials expressed concern in late April about a lack of measures to contain the virus in Burundi, the tiny East African nation expelled its top representative and three other WHO experts without explanation on May 12.

Burundi was one of the first African countries to shut its borders in March, which seemed to slow the virus’ spread initially. But the country saw an uptick in suspected cases after rallies were held in the run-up to May 20 general elections, a health care provider said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Burundi’s 55-year-old president, Pierre Nkurunziza, died in early June amid speculation he had come down with COVID-19. The government said in a statement he had suffered a heart attack. An air ambulance service told Reuters it had flown his wife, Denise Bucumi, to Kenya on May 21 but declined to confirm reports in the Kenyan media that she had sought treatment for the coronavirus. A family spokesman declined to comment.

Burundi’s new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, has promised measures to tackle the pandemic, including mass testing of people in areas suspected of being epicentres of the virus.

Another African state to fall out with the WHO was Equatorial Guinea. It hasn’t shared figures with the U.N. agency since late May, when its government accused the WHO of inflating the caseload and demanded that it recall its representative. The WHO blamed a “misunderstanding over data” and denied any falsification of figures.

Mitoha Ondo’o Ayekaba, Equatorial Guinea’s deputy health minister, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the dispute. The Central African country has continued to provide periodic updates to the Africa CDC, which puts the number of confirmed cases there at 3,071 with 51 deaths.

SURVEILLANCE GAPS 

While some countries won’t share information, others can’t: Their health systems are too broken to carry out any large-scale testing, surveillance or contact tracing.

“Even at the best of times, collecting quality data from countries is not easy because people are stretched thin,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC. “Combine that with an emergency, and it becomes very, very difficult.”

For example, Islamist militants and ethnic militias operate across vast swathes of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, making it impossible for governments there to establish a nationwide picture of the spread of the illness.

As in other countries, a shortage of kits has led Burkina Faso to largely limit the number of tests it conducts to contacts of confirmed cases and people arriving from abroad. This means there is little data on local transmission, health ministry reports show.

Some countries, like Cameroon and Nigeria, have decentralised testing, but many others have very little capacity outside their capitals, said Franck Ale, an epidemiologist with the international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation of 85 million that was already battling Ebola, was quick to suspend international flights and lock down parts of the capital Kinshasa when the virus hit in mid-March.

However, it took three months before the government was able to process tests outside Kinshasa, said Steve Ahuka, a member of Congo’s COVID-19 response committee, citing a lack of laboratories, equipment and personnel. In many areas, it still takes two weeks to get results, said two doctors.

South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, is one of the few to have rolled out mass testing. But it had a backlog of more than 63,000 unprocessed specimens as of June 10, because global suppliers were unable to meet its demand for laboratory kits, according to the health ministry. South Africa’s national laboratory service declined to disclose the current backlog.

In the absence of comprehensive testing data in other parts of the world, researchers look to different yardsticks to judge the prevalence of the coronavirus, including reviewing the number of deaths that exceed the average for the time of year.

But even that is not possible in most of Africa because data from previous years is lacking. Only eight countries – Algeria, Cape Verde, Djibouti, Egypt, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa – record more than 75% of their deaths, according to the United Nations. Ethiopia records less than 2%, the country’s health ministry said.

Without information about how severe an outbreak is and what resources are available to cope with it, nations risk lifting lockdowns too soon or maintaining them too long, said Amanda McClelland of the U.S.-based health policy initiative Resolve to Save Lives. 

“The big gap for us is really understanding the severity of the outbreak,” she said. “Without clarity on data, it is very hard to justify the economic pain that shutting down countries causes.”

Interactive graphic – Global COVID-19 overview: here

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Princess Diana heartbreak: How Diana would be devastated by latest move in royal feud

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Princess Diana tragically died in a car crash in 1997 aged 36 when her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, were just 15 and 12 respectively. Now the royal princes have married and have children of their own. But speculation about the deepening resentment between the two royals has been sparked again after the pair took steps to break apart once more.

Prince Harry stepped back from his role as a senior member of the Royal Family at the end of March.

Since that time, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been seen out in public less often, but last week, Harry paid tribute to his mother in a touching video message shown at The Diana Awards.

During his speech, Harry said: “I know that my mother has been an inspiration to many of you and I can assure you she would have been fighting your corner.

“Like many of you, she never took the easy route, she never took the popular one, or the comfortable one.

“But she stood for something. And she stood up for people who needed it.”

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  • William and Harry drift apart as they split earnings from Diana fund

Express.co.uk spoke to body language expert and energy reader Alison Ward who said she was touched by the parallels between Harry and his mother.

She said: “Harry is carrying on his Mother’s legacy by searching for truth whether the world likes it or not, He talks of this generation of young people who are being the change they wish to see in the world by being genuine with power inside.

“It is as if Diana is talking through him, but of course, she is.

“Even though she wasn’t their mother for long, she clearly instilled right from wrong, searching for truth and standing up for people who need it.

“Here is Harry being their voice then humbly handing over the mike to these amazing young changemakers.”

But this week it has been revealed William and Harry intend to take steps to divide the proceeds of the fund founded in memory of their late mother.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund was originally instituted following her death in 1997, and since 2013, has been paid into the Royal Foundation, a charitable fund used by Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle.

The change leaves William and Kate as sole executors of the foundation which received around £21,000 from the fund last year according to the annual report.

Prince Harry and Meghan are instead launching their own charitable organisation named Archewell.

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  • Royal revenge: Diana played Cupid to Fergie and Andrew

Harry has asked his share from the year to go towards his HIV/AIDS charity Sentebale according to People magazine.

The Duke of Sussex set up this organisation with his friend Prince Seeiso of Lesotho in Africa.

He was inspired to launch the organisation by his mother’s work in combating AIDS.

Earlier this year when the Sussexes announced their intention to leave royal life, royal expert Jayne Fincher said Diana “would be heartbroken” by the royal split.

She told Page 6: “[Diana] would be doing everything she could to try and solve it.

“She’d be doing everything to be the peacemaker.

“She’d be shaking the boy’s heads together saying, ‘For goodness sake. What’s going on here?”

“And I think she’d be trying to make peace between the girls, too.”

Growing up, she said the two boys “did everything together…The boys have gone through so much together.”

Princess Diana as “peacemaker” would likely be devastated by further divisions between her two children.

Prince Harry acknowledged the distance between himself and his brother last year in an ITV documentary ahead.

Speaking in it to anchor Tom Bradby, Harry said: “Part of this role and part of this job and this family being under the pressure that it’s under inevitably, you know, stuff happens.

“But look, we’re brothers. We’ll always be brothers.

“We’re certainly on different paths at the moment but I will always be there for him and as I know he’ll always be there for me.

“You know, we don’t see each other as much as we, as much as we used to because we’re so busy.

“But, I love him dearly and, you know, the majority of the stuff is created out of nothing.

“Just as I said, as brothers, you know, you have good days, you have bad days.”

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Thai Cabinet approves $4.46 billion plan for reviving coronavirus-hit economy

BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thailand’s Cabinet on Wednesday (July 8) approved a budget of up to 100 billion baht (S$4.46 billion) for projects aimed at reviving an economy hit by the coronavirus outbreak, the Prime Minister said.

The projects will mainly support households and farmers as well as provide jobs, Mr Prayut Chan-o-cha told a briefing.

“This is the first phase that will cover many stages of projects… and we will prepare the second phase,” he said.

The Cabinet approved 186 projects worth about 92.4 billion baht for strengthening the economy and boosting consumption and tourism, a government document showed.

These will be financed by the government’s one trillion baht borrowing for easing the outbreak impact – of that, 400 billion baht will be for the restoration of the economy.

Earlier, the state planning agency said it would propose to the Cabinet projects worth about 80 billion baht, which would create more than 400,000 jobs.

Thailand has introduced billions of dollars worth of measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on South-east Asia’s second-largest economy, which the central bank has forecast will contract by a record 8.1 per cent this year.

Tourism, a key driver of Thai growth, is expected to suffer from an 80 per cent plunge in foreign tourist numbers this year, an industry body says.

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Football: Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wary of Jack Grealish threat

LONDON (REUTERS) – Manchester United must be wary of the threat posed by Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish in Thursday’s Premier League clash at Villa Park, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said on Wednesday (July 8).

Grealish, 24, scored a sensational goal in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in December and British media have strongly linked the English midfielder with a move to Old Trafford.

“I think the last game they caused us some problems, Grealish off the left and Anwar El Ghazi on the right,” Solskjaer said in a virtual news conference ahead of the trip to Villa, who are 18th with 27 points, four from the safety zone.

“Grealish scored a fantastic goal, there’s been loads said about him and we need to be aware of him, if he’s off the left, middle or right, he attracts players to him but there’s not just one player in that Villa team, there are a lot of them.”

United, who are fifth with 55 points, four behind fourth-placed Leicester with a game in hand, are on a 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions and Norwegian Solskjaer has challenged his players to continue improving.

“As a footballer you know you can’t just pick out confidence from the fridge, you have to have it from every day in training and results matter,” he said.

“The last 16 games gives us confidence but nowhere near what a Manchester United team should stride towards. If we focus on the next one and suddenly stood there with 16 that’s what we’ve done and hopefully we can continue.”

The arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January has sparked United’s resurgence and Solskjaer believes there is a lot more to come from the Portuguese playmaker.

“I think it’s gone both ways. Bruno has come into the club, seen how many good players there are and that we’ve helped him show his attributes as well,” the United boss said.

“It’s been a good little relationship blossoming and he can also feel we help him improve. He’s come in and lifted everyone and it’s been a very, very good start so far.”

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Disease threatens to destroy large chunk of Europe's sugar crop

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) – A crop-disease outbreak is giving Europe’s struggling sugar farmers another thing to worry about.

Still dealing with historically low prices and hit by a dry spring that stressed beets after planting, growers now have to contend with the spread of beet yellows virus.

Transmitted by aphids, it could cut sugar production by as much as 25 per cent in France and even more in Germany if conditions don’t improve.

Fighting the disease has become harder since the European Union widened a ban on using neonicotinoids – insecticides blamed for killing bees – in 2018.

That’s threatening to lower EU production for a third season, after a collapse in prices a few years ago reduced plantings and forced some factories to close.

“It is clear that this will be a huge problem in France and the situation is quite concerning,” said Timothe Masson, an agronomist at French growers’ association CGB.

“We can no longer expect five-year average yields like before. Even if we have good weather in July and August, it will not help the affected beet to come back to normal shape.”

The neonicotinoid ban and a mild winter exacerbated the presence of aphids.

Though the impact varies depending on the region and it’s not clear exactly how crops will fare, there’s a risk that sugar output in France, the EU’s top grower, could drop as much as 25 per cent to 3.3 million tons in the season that starts in October, Mr Masson said.

Losses could reach up to 30 per cent in Germany and 50 per cent in Belgium, beet groups VSZ and CBB said.

“This is an exceptional situation which we have not seen in our country for 30 or 40 years,” said Peter Haegeman, secretary general of Belgium’s CBB.

“The economic consequences for growers are dramatic. The continuing dry weather was already an important risk factor. The yellows virus could come on top of this.”

Another disappointing year for the region’s farmers will encourage them to sow less in future, which would mean fewer beets to process and potentially more factory closures, said Fred Zeller, managing director of German beet group VSZ.

Still, tighter supplies going forward should support EU prices, according to Francois Thaury, an analyst at Paris-based adviser Agritel.

Germany’s Suedzucker AG said in May that the region’s prices should rise next year amid a deficit, while fellow producer Nordzucker AG also expects the market to improve from unsustainable levels.

Farmers switched to alternative insecticides to try to prevent beet yellows virus, but they’re not as effective as neonicotinoids, VSZ’s Zeller said.

Although growers had anticipated increased occurrence of the disease, the speed and magnitude has surprised many, he said.

“It’s like you see the tsunami coming toward you, but you don’t know when it will hit you and at what speed,” he said.

“It’s a very frightening situation in Germany. What’s really shocking is seeing infestation visible in Germany three to four weeks earlier than normal. This shows crop yield damage will be higher.”

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EU says is assessing City's financial market access

LONDON (Reuters) – Assessments of Britain’s future access to the European Union financial market are ongoing and take into account how far the United Kingdom will diverge from the bloc’s rules, a European Commission official said on Wednesday.

Britain left the EU in January and retains full access to the EU until the end of December under a transition deal.

Future access for banks, clearing houses and trading platforms will depend on Brussels deciding that Britain’s financial rules are and likely to remain equivalent to or sufficiently aligned with those in the bloc.

“We need to have a forward-looking approach and have a good understanding of the intentions the UK has in terms of future financial regulation,” Andrea Beltramello told an online event organised by the Futures Industry Association, an industry body.

Britain and the EU have blamed each other for missing an end of June deadline to complete assessments on financial market access from next January.

The London Stock Exchange’s London Clearing House unit clears over 90% of euro-denominated interest rate swaps and said it needs certainty on EU access by September to avoid forcing customers to move positions out of Britain by December.

Julien Jardelot, the LSE’s head of Europe government relations and regulator strategy, said he hopes the EU can give some form of legal clarity shortly.

“We are confident that both EU and UK regulators… understand the need to ensure a smooth transition,” Jardelot said.

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Most Americans believe Russia targeted US soldiers, want sanctions in response: Poll

NEW YORK (REUTERS) – A majority of Americans believe that Russia paid the Taleban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan last year amid negotiations to end the war, and more than half want to respond with new economic sanctions against Moscow, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday (July 8).

The national opinion poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday shows that the American public remains deeply suspicious of Russia four years after it tried to tip the US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour, and most Americans are unhappy with how the president has handled relations with the country.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll follows a series of reports, including several by Reuters, that Russia had been rewarding Taleban-affiliated militants, possibly by offering them bounties, to attack and kill US troops in the region. Moscow denies the allegations.

The New York Times and Washington Post both reported that several American soldiers were believed to have died as a result of the bounties.

Mr Trump said last week he was not told about the reported Russian effort, because intelligence officials were uncertain about its veracity. The New York Times reported that the president received written briefings about the programme earlier this year, and it was also included in a widely read CIA report in May.

Overall, 60 per cent of Americans said they found reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers to be “very” or “somewhat” believable, while 21 per cent said they were not credible and the rest were unsure.

Thirty-nine per cent said they thought Mr Trump “did know” about Russia’s targeting of the US military before reports surfaced in the news media last month, while 26 per cent said the president “did not know.”

Eighty-one per cent of Americans said they viewed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a threat to the United States, including 24 per cent who saw him as an “imminent threat.” Only 35 per cent said they approved of Mr Trump’s handling of Russia, compared with 52 per cent who disapproved.

Fifty-four per cent said the United States should punish Russia with economic sanctions, while 9 per cent supported strikes on its military, another 9 per cent wanted to move on and try to improve relations with Russia, and 29 per cent said they were not sure.

NEW RE-ELECTION HURDLE

The Russia allegations appear to have become another hurdle for the president’s re-election campaign, which has already been hamstrung by Mr Trump’s uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 133,000 Americans and dragged the economy into recession.

Mr Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee to face Mr Trump in the Nov 3 election, leads the Republican president by 6 percentage points among registered voters. Mr Biden’s lead, which had been as large as 13 points in June, has narrowed over the past few weeks as the number of undecided voters and the number who supported third-party candidates increased slightly.

Mr Biden has criticised Mr Trump’s handling of the reported allegations as a “dereliction of duty,” while Democrats in Congress called for the president to consider imposing new economic sanctions on Russia if the report was confirmed.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Mr Trump would take “strong action” if the reports proved to be true, although the administration has yet to announce any specific actions in response.

In the latest poll, just 38 per cent of Americans said they approved of Mr Trump’s overall performance in office, while 57 per cent disapproved.

Reuters/Ipsos polling has shown the president has been shedding support among groups including independents, older voters and white men.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,114 adults and had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.

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China hires Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs to advise on pipeline asset transfers: sources

HONG KONG/BEIJING (REUTERS) – Top Chinese energy firms have mandated investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to act as advisers for multi-billion dollar deals transferring oil and gas pipeline assets into a national energy infrastructure giant, four sources said.

Overseen by a government vice premier, underlining the project’s importance for Beijing, Beijing aims to complete the asset transfers and start operation of the new entity – valued by industry analysts at more than $40 billion – by the end of September, oil industry officials said.

“The timetable is a moving target but the goal was to complete the (asset) merger by end of July,” one person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

China announced in late 2019 that it would establish a National Oil and Gas Pipeline Company by combining pipelines, storage facilities and natural gas receiving terminals operated by China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), China Petrochemical Corp (Sinopec Group) and China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC).

The new entity – also known as PipeChina – was conceived by Beijing to provide oil and gas producers neutral access to energy infrastructure, and in so doing boost non-state investment in exploration of oil and gas.

Morgan Stanley has been selected to advise Sinopec, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Goldman Sachs was selected for CNPC, two separate sources said.

It was not immediately clear if CNOOC had appointed an international adviser.

For the new pipeline group itself, China International Capital Corporation, or CICC, has been appointed as adviser, three separate sources said.

All of the people interviewed by Reuters requested anonymity because the matter was not public.

Sinopec declined to comment. PetroChina and CNOOC did not immediately comment.

On the banks side, Morgan Stanley declined to comment, as did Goldman and CICC.

According to some industry insiders, the transfer of some of the assets, such as the Shaanxi-Beijing gas trunk line project and natural gas receiving terminals that involve joint venture partners and minority stakeholders, may take longer to complete.

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Airborne coronavirus spread: Five things to know

We answer some questions about the transmission of COVID-19 through the air, the risks and ways to protect yourself.

More than seven months after the new coronavirus was first detected, scientists and health experts are still trying to get a better understanding of how it spreads and how to curb the COVID-19 respiratory disease it causes.

The coronavirus is transmitted from person to person through “droplet transmission”, including direct contact with someone who has been infected, indirect contact with contaminated surfaces, droplets of saliva from coughing or discharge from the nose when sneezing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Airborne transmission is also possible, but its effects and risks have recently sparked a scientific debate.

What is airborne transmission?

The WHO has long said the new coronavirus spreads mainly through small droplets released from the mouth and nose that fall from the air in a short period.

But some scientists and researchers are increasingly pointing out to evidence that the virus can also be transmitted by even smaller droplets called aerosols. Usually generated when people are shouting and singing, these remain suspended in the air for longer and can travel farther.

How is it different from droplet transmission?

The respiratory droplets sneezed or coughed out are larger in size – a diameter of five to 10 micrometres – and the range of exposure is one to two metres (three to six feet).

Aerosols, however, are less than five micrometres in diameter and travel beyond two metres from the infected individual.

“The new coronavirus can survive in both droplets and aerosol for up to three hours under experimental conditions, although this depends on temperature and humidity, ultraviolet light and even the presence of other types of particles in the air,” Stephanie Dancer, a consultant medical microbiologist in the UK, told Al Jazeera.

“Microscopic aerosols can project at least six metres in indoor environments, and possibly even further if dynamic air currents are operating. The distance depends upon how large the aerosol is.”

How is COVID-19 spreading through the air?

As in droplet transmission, aerosols can be released in several ways including, breathing, talking, laughing, sneezing, coughing, singing and shouting.

“Breathing would not offer much projectile force, but shouting, singing, coughing and sneezing project aerosol through the air with a range of different velocities,” said Dancer.

“Even if one individual particle does not contain enough virus to cause infection, if you carry on breathing in these particles over time, you will acquire enough in your mouth, nose and respiratory tract to initiate infection.”

Airborne transmission can also occur in certain medical procedures that involve the patient generating aerosols, putting healthcare workers particularly at risk.

“Coronavirus can be spread by aerosol under special circumstances if using nebulisers, bronchoscopy, intubation, dental and other oral procedures using suction and lavage,” said Naheed Usmani, president of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA).

“This is particularly dangerous for healthcare workers who should only attempt these procedures wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks,” she told Al Jazeera. 

Is airborne COVID-19 less contagious?

The extent to which the coronavirus can be spread by the aerosol route – as opposed to by larger droplets – remains disputed.

While the WHO has long maintained that the primary source of infection is through droplet transmission, it has acknowledged there was “emerging evidence” of airborne transmission.

“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,” Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, said in a news briefing this week.

This came after a group of 239 scientists from 32 countries and a variety of fields made the case in an open letter that there was a “real risk” of airborne transmission, especially in indoor, enclosed and crowded environments without proper ventilation.

Dancer, who was one of the signatories of the letter, said there is a lower risk of catching the virus the further you are from the source.

Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado, also told Al Jazeera the “virus loses infectivity over a period of an hour or so indoors”.

How can you protect yourself?

Wearing face masks properly and maintaining physical distancing are recommended at all times.

Experts also recommend avoiding crowded places, especially public transport and public buildings.

In closed spaces at schools, offices and hospitals, increasing proper ventilation with outdoor air by opening windows can also mitigate the risk of infection, Jimenez said.

“For spaces where ventilation cannot be increased, we recommend portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter air cleaners or possibly ultraviolet (UV) germicidal lights at the high end of need. We do not recommend other types of air cleaners.”

Follow Saba Aziz on Twitter: @saba_aziz


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Formula One: Double champion Fernando Alonso to make F1 comeback with Renault

LONDON (REUTERS) – Double world champion Fernando Alonso will make a Formula One comeback with Renault, the team he won his titles with, in 2021 after two years out of the sport, the French team announced on Wednesday (July 8).

“Renault DP World F1 Team is pleased to confirm Fernando Alonso alongside Esteban Ocon in its driver line-up for the 2021 season,” Renault said in a statement.

The Spaniard, also a double Le Mans 24 Hours winner who turns 39 in July, won his championships in 2005 and 2006 and most recently raced for McLaren in the 2018 season.

More to follow…

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