Omicron can be caught through a ‘whiff of infected breath’, Government adviser warns


Omicron is extremely infectious, Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – a sub-committee of SAGE, said

Omicron is very contagious – but appears to be causing less severe illness in most cases

Omicron is so infectious it can be spread through a “whiff of infected breath,” one of the Government’s scientific advisers said today.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – a sub-committee of SAGE, said: “Omicron is so infectious.

“It has ended up being so infectious that it almost needs just a whiff of infected breath and you could get infected.”

He told BBC Breakfast the UK was lucky that the original strain of Covid, that emerged from Wuhan in early 2020t, had not possessed Omicron’s high transmissibility.

Although Omicron is known to be ultra-transmissible, mounting evidence shows it is triggering milder illness generally.

The Omicron variant is on a test tube (file image)

It is still unclear whether this is due to the virus itself being less inherently deadly or because of the protection people have from getting a Covid jab or a prior infection of the virus.

Professor Openshaw, 67, added: “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 five per cent, and they’re being exposed to this very infectious virus with very little protection.”

But a record 189,213 coronavirus cases were logged across the UK yesterday.

And the number of hospital patients with Covid in England rose to 11,452, a rise of 61 per cent in just one week.

Unlike in the rest of the UK, no restrictions against gathering at large events – like rugby games – have yet been imposed in England

Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, said new restrictions “may be needed at pace if the evidence warrants it” as he said health bosses “still don’t know” if there will be a surge in elderly hospitalisations which could trigger Boris Johnson to act.

The Prime Minister is expected to make a decision in the first week of the New Year on whether to restrict mixing indoors in England.

It’s thought new curbs will help ease pressure on the NHS as an estimated 28,000 staff in England have been off ill every day this week.

Nearly 25,000 staff were ill with the virus or self-isolating on Boxing Day, more than double the 12,000 stuck at home a fortnight earlier.

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Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is putting in plans to step up once again for patients with the new Nightingale surge hubs, extra support from community services and virtual wards, but there is no doubt the whole system is running hot,’ he said.

“While the Government seems determined not to increase restrictions in England, it is vital we all behave in ways that will not exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”

The health service is reportedly setting up Nightingale surge hubs at hospitals across the country and recruiting thousands of nurses and reservists as Covid case numbers rise.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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