‘Coronavirus transmission through asymptomatic patients very rare’: WHO says, but experts disagree

It is “very rare” for an asymptomatic person with Covid-19 to infect another person, a top World Health Organization (WHO) official said during a press briefing Monday, adding that following symptomatic patients alone can drastically reduce the spread of the disease.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for Covid-19, said data from a number of countries show transmission of the infection through asymptomatic people — those who have the infection but show no symptoms — is rare.

“We have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases, they’re following contacts, and they’re not finding secondary transmission,” Van Kerkhove said during the online briefing. “It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.”

However, she added that much of this information is not published in scientific literature.

Van Kerkhove said the focus should remain on following symptomatic cases. “If we followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, follow the contact and quarantine those contacts, we would drastically reduce transmission.”

The WHO statement, however, invited criticism from experts all over the world who said it was confusing and not backed by enough evidence.

Andrew M. Slavitt, a health expert from the US, called the statement “irresponsible.”