Experts warn that more than two years after the pandemic began, the world is still not using any of its most effective weapons against Covid – proper ventilation of public spaces.
At the moment there is a “fragile, armed peace” with Covid-19, said Antoine Flahault, Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva.
“In the hope of stemming the tide of the pandemic and reducing mortality, we must reduce the level of contamination, which the vaccine alone cannot do,” he told AFP.
“We need a new phase – improving indoor air quality.”
Covid-19 is mainly transmitted through the air. It is transmitted in large droplets or fine aerosols when an infected person breathes — and even more so when they speak, sing, or scream.
In a closed or poorly ventilated room, these aerosols can stay in the air for some time, move around the room and greatly increase the risk of infection.
While it is widely accepted that Covid can be transmitted within two meters (6.5 feet) via both droplets and aerosols, there is still no consensus on the importance of long-distance airborne transmission indoors.
A team of researchers from the UK Health Security Agency and the University of Bristol reviewed 18 studies in several countries on airborne transmission.
In research published this week in the BMJ, they found that people can infect each other if they are more than two meters apart.
– Open the window –
One thing we know for sure: If you open a window or ventilate a room well, the virus-carrying aerosols will evaporate like smoke.
But experts say that far from enough is being done to ventilate public and private spaces around the world.
“Broadly speaking, this is an issue that governments have not yet addressed,” Flahault said.
He called for massively increased funds to ventilate many public spaces, starting with schools, hospitals, public transport, offices, bars and restaurants.
“Just as we were able to filter and treat drinking water in homes in the early 20th century, ‘you can imagine some homes equipping themselves with air purifiers and considering opening their windows,'” Flahault said.
Few countries have announced ventilator plans since the pandemic began.
In March, the US government called on all building owners and operators, as well as schools and universities, to “adopt key strategies to improve indoor air quality.”
Dubbed the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, the plan is covered by previously announced Covid funding and also includes a review of existing ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems.
In view of Covid, the European Union has not made any binding statements on improving air quality.
However, Belgium has announced a plan to install a carbon dioxide meter in all places open to the public. Owning such a meter is voluntary until the end of 2024, when it will become mandatory.
Stephen Griffin from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds in the UK lamented that the UK had not acted more on ventilation.
“Unfortunately, the UK has not grasped the opportunity to do this to protect its citizens in public spaces, its children in schools, or the longevity of the vaccination programme,” he told the Science Media Centre.
He said setting minimum safety standards for ventilation in public buildings would also “significantly mitigate the impact of other diseases”.
“Better ventilation also improves cognition by lowering carbon dioxide levels and, along with filtration, can reduce the effects of pollen and other allergies.”
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