WHO official clarifies comments on asymptomatic spread of COVID-19

A top World Health Organization official backpedaled on comments she made that transmission of the new coronavirus by infected but asymptomatic people is "very rare," The New York Times reports.

On June 8 Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, head of the WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said that although a person with COVID-19 who is not showing symptoms can spread the virus, "it still seems to be rare."

Dr. Van Kerkhove confirmed June 9 that the comments were based on two or three studies and saying that transmission of the virus by asymptomatic individuals worldwide is rare is a "misunderstanding."

She further clarified that the estimates of asymptomatic transmission came from models, which do not provide an accurate picture of the spread of the virus.

Scientists and health experts were quick to call out the comments as confusing and even "irresponsible."

Scientists also criticized the comments in light of the fact that they may have policy implications, as many countries have implemented rules around wearing masks and social distancing due to the risk of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread.

Dr. Van Kerkhove and WHO officials reiterated the importance of social distancing, along with other measures, such as testing, tracing, quarantine and isolation, to help curb the pandemic, the Times reports.

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