Merely “a whiff of infected breath” is enough to catch the most transmissible variant of coronavirus, Omicron, a leading scientist warned this morning.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Breakfast: “Omicron is so infectious.
“We’re lucky really that it wasn’t this infectious when it first moved into human-to-human transmission We’ve had several iterations of this virus going through different stages of its evolution.
“t has ended up being so infectious that it almost needs just a whiff of infected breath and you could get infected.”Professor Peter Openshaw
“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.”
Also this morning, Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers which represents health trusts, said the use of extra capacity hubs at hospitals would be a recognition that there was an “emergency” situation needed to deal with Covid-19 admissions.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “existing facilities” inside hospitals such as wards used for elective care patients or even operating rooms could be used if there was a “real surge of older patients”.
Hopson added: “The hubs are there to have super-surge capacity on top of that, so we really would be in an emergency if we were having to use them and therefore we would have to use an emergency staffing model, because we are very clear in the NHS: we don’t have the staff, the existing staff, to be able to staff these beds, so we would have to go into an emergency mode.
“What we would therefore be doing is we would be asking colleagues, for example who have recently retired, we would be asking colleagues from the voluntary sector and experienced volunteers to come in and help.
“The important thing to understand is that what we would be using these hubs for – we wouldn’t be using these hubs for the most critically ill patients.
“What we would be doing is using them for patients who were effectively over the worst, heading towards discharge for home – and don’t forget you’ve got 20 per cent of patients in hospital beds at the moment who are medically fit to discharge – and so therefore, while their needs would still be significant, they wouldn’t be the same needs as the most seriously ill patients.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision not to enforce restrictions on New Year’s Eve gatherings in England is “quite risky” given the high rates of Covid-19 infections, according to Dr Azeem Majeed, head of primary care and public health at Imperial College London.
“It is quite risky given the fact we’re now approaching 200,000 cases per day – there is a high rate of infection in the community,” he told Times Radio.
“So if you attend an event in a crowded indoor venue, the chances are that someone there will have been infected, and they may not know that and that person could infect others.
“So if you do attend an event you have to bear in mind you are doing that with some risk to yourself and you may infect others in your family who are perhaps more vulnerable such as your parents and grandparents.”