Coronavirus boost as WHO admits asymptomatic spread is ‘rare’

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The embattled organisation has been under fire for allegedly downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak, and not properly warning western countries of the impact the virus could have. Worldwide the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, with 7,193,478 confirmed cases of the virus, and 408,615 deaths.

WHO officials say that while asymptomatic spread can occur between people, it is not the main way it’s being transmitted.

Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead and an infectious disease epidemiologist, gave the good news on June 8.

At a news briefing from the agency’s Geneva headquarters, she said: “From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.

“It’s very rare.”

Van Kerkhove suggested as a result that government responses should focus on detecting and isolating infected people with symptoms, and tracking anyone who might have come into contact with them.

But she also acknowledged that other studies have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread in nursing homes and in household settings.

Van Kerkhove added that more data is need to “truly answer” the question of whether the coronavirus can spread widely through asymptomatic carriers.

The WHO previously based their guidelines on preliminary evidence from the earliest outbreaks, which indicated that the virus could spread from person-to-person contact, even if the carrier was asymptomatic.



Van Kerkhove said: “We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing.

“They’re following asymptomatic cases.

“They’re following contacts.

“And they’re not finding secondary transmission onward.

“It’s very rare.”


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The implication of this finding on global coronavirus policy could be immense: The US’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention cited the “potential for pre-symptomatic transmission” as a reason for the importance of social distancing.

This is not to suggest that asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread of the virus doesn’t occur, Van Kerkhove makes clear, but indicates that the worst fears of transmission is rare.

She said: “What we really want to be focused on is following the symptomatic cases.

“If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those contacts, we would drastically reduce (the outbreak).”

It comes as countries all over the world begin to drastically ease their lockdown measures as they start to see an end to the pandemic.

In the UK, coronavirus daily deaths have dropped to levels last seen before lockdown was called.

A further 55 people died after testing positive with the virus as of 5PM on Sunday, taking the total to 40,597.

However fewer deaths are usually reported on Mondays, due to a reporting lag over the weekend.

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