Coronavirus is not an airborne disease, going by textbook definition, but the virus can travel in air for a few feet in the form of aerosol, Shekhar Mande, the Director General of Central Science Industrial Research told NDTV today. The virus can sometimes spread as aerosol through cough or sneeze of a patient, he said as concerns about coronavirus being airborne have surfaced again.
Airborne diseases are where the pathogen -- disease-causing virus or bacteria -- can travel and spread through air, like chickenpox, measles or influenza. Aerosol form is when minute respiratory droplets can float in the air for a while but this does not "travel with the wind" and "quickly settles", Dr Mande said.
The New York Times has reported that 239 scientists from across 32 nations have outlined evidence that small airborne particles carrying the virus can infect people. They have also written an open letter to the World Health Organsation flagging the issue and plan to publish it in a scientific journal next week.
Quoting scientists, the NYT report said the virus -- carried by large droplets that can either zoom through the air after a sneeze, or gliding the length of a room through exhaled droplets -- can infect people who inhale it.
Such concerns were raised earlier too, but the WHO said there is not enough evidence to say the virus is airborne, like influenza or measles. The respiratory droplets which spread through air can infect people only within enclosed spaces and close range, the agency had said.
"We are not writing to the WHO at the moment. The WHO is looking at the scientific evidence and will issue guidelines after consideration. If need be, they can release new guidelines by looking at this research," Dr Mande said.
For now, people should be careful as the fear of such spread increases "within closed office spaces", he added. But in these circumstances, face covers should work. For health workers, N-95 masks are a must, he added.
The guidelines making face masks mandatory for everyone was issued after concerns were raised in late March about the virus being airborne. Initially masks were said to be necessary only for infected people. But later, the WHO said for an uninfected person, a mask means an extra layer of protection and made it mandatory for all.