The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Monday said a new evidence has showed that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible.

It urged citizens to absolutely wear a face mask and adhere to other non-pharmaceutical protocols, such as avoiding mass gatherings, practising social distancing and maintaining hand hygiene by washing of hands.

Speaking during the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said: “Over the past few weeks, increasing evidence has emerged that in addition to droplet infection we cannot rule out that airborne transmission is also possible as a mode of COVID-19 spread.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its guidelines on this, saying exactly the same thing – that we cannot rule out airborne transmission. Therefore, we have to act in a precautionary way assuming that this is also possible given the new evidence that is emerging.

“Understanding the mode of transmission of any new virus is very critical for defining response strategies. For COVID-19, from the very beginning, our understanding based on all the coronavirus that was spread, was primarily through droplets and excretions from the respiratory tract that can’t stay on in air, and they ultimately fall to the ground after a few minutes.

“However, as we have studied transmissions and clusters of these infections, we saw increasing evidence from clusters of infections where droplet transmission did not seem to be enough to explain the clusters that we are seeing.

“Diseases that are commonly understood to be spread by what we call airborne infection are things like measles, influenza, etc., that can be suspended in the air and transmitted over longer distances.

“The new research does not change our guidelines, but only strengthens them as they stand.”

Ihekweazu added, “This means that staying together in closed spaces and clusters such as in restaurants and in small rooms with very poor ventilation increases the risk of transmission. Indoor activities are riskier than outdoors activities, especially when there are many people in the room when we don’t adhere to distancing them and when we don’t wear masks.

“This means that we have to, with a louder voice of the things that we have been saying already; that we have to even strengthen further the avoidance of mass gatherings or gatherings of any nature in small spaces.

“Once you exceed the normal level of what is possible in a room, especially in a room with poor ventilation, then, there are already too many people in that room. So, we have to pay attention to ventilation, distancing, stay outside as preferred to inside, continue to wash our hands and absolutely wear a mask whenever we are outside our homes.”

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, added: “I emphasize again that conscientious wearing of masks is being confirmed in various studies, as the easiest, cheapest and most reliable way to check the rate of spread.

“Some countries have made it mandatory by law and imposed a fine for non-compliance. Regular washing of hands, avoiding crowds, social distancing and use of minimum of 65 per cent alcohol based sanitizers remain as relevant as at the beginning.”

The NCDC is set to begin the electronic transmission of COVID-19 results its director-general said at yesterday’s briefing.

People will no longer have to wait for longer periods to receive their results as they can easily use a code to electronically check for it. This cuts the bureaucracy in results transmission – from Federal Government to laboratories, and then to States Government.

The director-general said: “There is an online platform that is being set up at the moment to enable the electronic transmission of results come back to patients. We have been working very hard on that. This should be launched over the next few days and hopefully by the end of the weekend.

“You can go in yourself and check your results once you have been tested and you have a code that is given to you. This way you don’t rely on several steps between Federal, laboratories and States government in order to share those results.

“At the moment, if you need printed-out results, you can get it. Some people require printed-out results for different reasons and we will provide those results. We don’t do it at the moment and even in the future, it is unlikely that we will be sending out papers to people. But if you need it for whatever reason we will offer you a printout of your results.”

The NCDC boss also complained of the agency’s call centre has been receiving a lot of hoax and unnecessary calls, which perpetually clogged the line and makes it difficult for individuals with genuine complaints to get through.

“26 per cent of all our calls last week were hoax calls. One in four of all the calls coming to the NCDC connect centre were hoax calls; people were just calling for one reason or the other – to check whether you’re there, to challenge you, to ask you about Madagascar cure or something like that. These are the challenges that we have that clog the lines but we keep trying to manage that.

“For most of the calls that come to us, our role is to do a risk assessment and then transfer the person to the state government that will ultimately collect his or her sample. The NCDC has never picked up patients; it has always been the responsibility of States government.”