You only need to be exposed to ‘a whiff of infected breath’ to catch Omicron, one of the government’s scientific advisers has said.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group — a sub-committee of SAGE — told BBC Breakfast that “Omicron is so infectious.
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“It has ended up being so infectious that it almost needs just a whiff of infected breath and you could get infected.”
He added that the UK was lucky that the original strain of COVID, which emerged from Wuhan in early 2020, did not have Omicron’s high transmissibility.
“We’re lucky really that it wasn’t this in.fectious when it first moved into human-to-human transmission,” he said.
While Omicron is known to be ultra-transmissible, mounting evidence shows it is triggering milder illness.
Scientists are still unclear whether this is due to the virus itself being less inherently deadly or because of the protection people now enjoy from getting a COVID jab or a prior infection of the virus.
But Professor Openshaw added that while the UK had a high vaccination rate against COVID, affording most people protection from severe disease from the virus, other nations were not as fortunate.
“We’re in a relatively good position in countries like the UK.
“But I think you have to remember that in many parts of the world the vaccination rates are only about 5 per cent, and they’re being exposed to this very infectious virus with very little protection.”
His comments came as a record 189,213 coronavirus cases were logged across the UK yesterday, while the number of hospital patients with COVID in England rose to 11,452, a rise of 61 per cent in just one week.
The rise in cases and therefore potential demands on the health service has prompted NHS bosses to warn that government “needs to be ready to introduce tighter restrictions at real speed should they be needed”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson opted not to impose new curbs between Christmas and New Year’s Eve but rising COVID cases are fuelling fears that new measures could be on the horizon.
A key issue is the number of NHS workers in England absent due to COVID, which has doubled in two weeks to nearly 28,000 per day. Mail Online