Fact-check: Did WHO Say There is No Asymptomatic Transmission of Covid-19?

Claim: A video clip circulating on social media shows Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO Technical Lead, in a press briefing saying, “from the data we have, it seems to be very rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a second individual.”. 

The clip generated TV discussion on Newsmax TV and subsequently led to social media discussions with users claiming that WHO made a u-turn after destroying the global economy by saying asymptomatic patients spread the virus. 

Verdict: Misleading 

Fact: Fact-checkers at HumAngle found that the video was genuine. However, the WHO clarified the statement saying that the data available at hand could not determine the actual rate of asymptomatic transmission globally. 

“The majority of transmission that we know about is that of people who have symptoms transmitting the virus to other people through infectious droplets,” Van Kerkhove said in a statement on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. 

“But there are subsets of people who don’t develop symptoms, and to truly understand how many people don’t have symptoms, we don’t actually have that answer yet,” she clarified. 

She added, “we are constantly looking at this data and we are trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question.”

Other medical experts, including Dr Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, United States, in a TV show, said the WHO statement made earlier by Van Kerkhove before clarification was not correct. 

“We know from epidemiological studies they can transmit to someone who is uninfected even when they are without symptoms,” said Fauci on ABC News. 

A report released by WHO in April stated that there were few laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 who were truly asymptomatic. 

“There are few reports of laboratory-confirmed cases of who are truly asymptomatic, and to date, there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission,” the report stated.

“This does not exclude the possibility that it may occur. Asymptomatic cases have been reported as part of contact tracing efforts in some countries,” the report concluded. 

Conclusion: Van Kerkhove who made the statement admitted that her use of the phrase “very rare” in the first statement was misleading and miscommunication. 

She added that she didn’t mean that the global transmission of asymptomatic infections was happening rarely, because the available data in hands could not determine that.

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Aliyu Dahiru

Aliyu is an Assistant Editor at HumAngle and Head of the Radicalism and Extremism Desk. He has years of experience researching misinformation and influence operations. He is passionate about analysing jihadism in Africa and has published several articles on the topic. His work has been featured in various local and international publications.

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