Covid live: most Europeans could get Omicron by March, says WHO; Sweden reports record rise in cases

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Coronavirus loses 90% of its ability to infect us within five minutes of becoming airborne, the world’s first simulations of how the virus survives in exhaled air suggest.

The findings re-emphasise the importance of short-range Covid transmission, with physical distancing and mask-wearing likely to be the most effective means of preventing infection. Ventilation, though still worthwhile, is likely to have a lesser impact.

“People have been focused on poorly ventilated spaces and thinking about airborne transmission over metres or across a room. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but I think still, the greatest risk of exposure is when you’re close to someone,” said Prof Jonathan Reid, director of the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Centre and the study’s lead author.

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The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest charity, is ramping up spending on science research to £16bn over the next 10 years, with a focus on funding next-generation Covid-19 vaccines, after it reaped the highest investment returns in a quarter of a century.

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A west-to-east “tidal wave” of Omicron infections risks submerging health systems across Europe, the World Health Organization has said, warning that more than half the region’s population will be infected with the variant in the next two months.

Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said the region had recorded more than 7m new cases in the first week of 2022, double the rate a fortnight previously, with more than 1% of the population catching Covid-19 each week in 26 countries.

Kluge said the variant had now been reported in 50 of the Europe region’s 53 states and was becoming dominant in western Europe. “At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks”, he said – a scale of transmission he described as unprecedented.

Its impact would be deadliest where vaccination rates were lower such as central and eastern Europe, Kluge warned, saying he was “deeply concerned” that as the variant moves east, “we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated”.

In Denmark, he said, where Omicron cases had “exploded in recent weeks”, the Covid-19 hospitalisation rate for unvaccinated patients during Christmas week had been was six times higher than for those who were fully vaccinated.

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6.14am EST06:14

WHO: Most Europeans could contract Omicron by March

More than half of people in Europe could contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organization has warned, AFP reports.

Speaking at a press conference, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a “new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across” the European region.

He said:

At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks.

The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were “catching Covid-19 each week,” as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.

Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and “the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.”

However, Kluge also stressed that “approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.”

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