CORONAVIRUS could be spread "just by breathing and talking", doctors are warning.
Experts have previously said the deadly bug is transmitted between people through droplets spread from coughing and sneezing.
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And those droplets can contaminate surfaces or objects and infect people who touch the surface and then touch their faces.
However, scientists are now warning that coronavirus may also spread through the air in tiny particles that infected people exhale during normal breathing and speech.
Researchers from the US National Academies of Science (NAS) made the revelation in a report they delivered to the White House on Wednesday.
According to CNN, the letter, written by Dr. Harvey Fineberg, a former Harvard School of Public Health dean, emphasised that even the breath of a person with coronavirus could be dangerous.
He said: "While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing."
The NAS letter to the White House noted research conducted in a Chinese hospital that found the virus can sent into the air and linger there when health care workers take of their protective gear and possibly as result of cleaning jostling the particles free, or even of movements.
If coronavirus is airborne, that could help to explain why it is so contagious, and can spread before people have symptoms.
As of yesterday, more than one million people are confirmed to have Covid-19, and more than 50,000 people have died worldwide.
In the UK, there are 33,718 cases of coronavirus – and the death toll stands at 2,961.
Brits are currently advised to stay more than two metres apart from one another to slow the spread of coronavirus, however, Dr Fineberg warned that the virus can spread much further.
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He said: "If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it's conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus.
"But if you're outside, the breeze will likely disperse it."
Dr Fineberg and his expert panel said that wearing surgical masks can cut down on the amount of virus that infected people spread – citing an unpublished study from the University of Hong Kong.
However, their letter does not address whether wearing a mask will protect the person wearing the mask from catching the illness and how much virus a person must breathe in to get infected isn’t known.
Dr Fineberg said he himself will begin wearing a mask in public as a precaution against contracting the virus, especially in relatively closed spaces like grocery stores.
He added: "I'm not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those.
"But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options."
Yesterday it was revealed Brits could soon be ordered to wear a face mask in public after new evidence prompted officials to consider a major U-turn.
World Health Organisation advisers examined research that suggests their wider use does help to combat coronavirus.
The review may lead the WHO and the UK government to rewrite existing guidelines, which only recommend their use in limited circumstances.
Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and social distancing are still the best way to stop the deadly new virus from spreading.
The NHS has until now maintained there is “very little evidence” of their benefit outside of hospital but masks are compulsory in some countries.
Prof David Heymann, who chairs the advisory group, said new data from Hong Kong and the USA had led to the review.
He said: “There is right now a debate about the usefulness of masks because Hong Kong has provided some evidence that masks may be useful in protecting individuals from infection.
“It’s not clear yet whether or not that’s true.
“The WHO, the group that I work with, is debating that with a group of experts from around the world to understand whether there is evidence which would call for a change in what WHO is recommending.”
Some experts have warned there is an increased risk of infection if people do not use face masks correctly or take care when removing them.
Others have said they can protect people from catching the virus and stop infected people from passing it on.
The WHO has said people only need to wear masks if they are caring for someone with Covid-19, or if they themselves are coughing or sneezing.
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