The claim that WHO has said social distancing is not needed as COVID-19 cannot transmit from person to person is false.
Social media users are sharing a video with a caption that claims the World Health Organization (WHO) has said social distancing is not needed as COVID-19 cannot transmit from person to person. However, this is not true.
In the video, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, is heard saying: “From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onwards to a secondary individual”. This clip is paired with a caption that claims the WHO has made “a complete U turn” and now advises that coronavirus patients don’t need to be isolated or quarantined. It also claims that the organization has said social distancing is not needed because the virus cannot transmit from one patient to another.
While Kerkhove did make the comment in the video, it was related to very rare asymptomatic patients, and current WHO guidelines maintain that COVID-19 is a contagious disease that should be treated as such. “People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks”, the WHO explains on its coronavirus Q&A webpage.
After her remark on “rare” asymptomatic transmission came under scrutiny, Kerkhove said that she had been misunderstood and that she was referring to a certain “subset of studies.”
According to WHO guidelines, while current evidence suggests that most transmission happens from people with symptoms to others in close contact, there is also the “possibility of transmission from people who are infected and shedding virus but have not yet developed symptoms,” which is called pre-symptomatic transmission.
The WHO defines isolation as separating people who are ill with COVID-19 symptoms, while quarantine is “restricting activities or separating people” who are not ill themselves but may have been exposed to the virus. The health body states that both isolation and quarantine are important measures to avoid infecting others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19 including symptoms, prevention and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organisation or your national healthcare authority.