Risk of catching Covid 'three times higher on a plane since Omicron'

Risk of catching Covid is THREE times higher on plane than with other variants due to more infectious Omicron strain: Warning as millions jet off to see families for Xmas – as expert suggest business class are safest seats

  • Comments by International Air Transport Association’s advisor David Powell
  • He said Omicron increases risk ‘just as we have seen in other environments’
  • It comes as million prepare to fly home to their families ahead of Christmas 

Airline passengers are up to three times more likely to catch Covid since the emergence of the Omicron variant, a top medical adviser has today warned.

David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, said the variant increased the risk of catching the virus ‘just as we have seen in other environments’.

He also warned those in economy class were more likely to catch Covid on a plane compared to those in business class, because the seats are more closely packed together.

But he said passengers were as, if not more, likely to catch Covid inside terminal buildings compared to planes, due to ‘much more stringent airflow rules’ for commercial aircraft.

His comments come as millions of people prepare to fly home to their families for Christmas, while winter sunseekers jet off on their holidays.

Speaking to Bloomberg News, Mr Powell said: ‘Whatever the risk was with Delta, we would have to assume the risk would be two to three times greater with Omicron, just as we’ve seen in other environments. 

David Powell (pictured), physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, said the variant increased the risk of catching the virus ‘just as we have seen in other environments’

Mr Powell said passengers were as, if not more, likely to catch Covid inside terminal buildings compared to planes, as rules on airflows are ‘much more stringent’ on commercial aircraft. Pictured: An aircraft cabin is deep cleaned

Mr Powell also warned those in economy class (pictured: Library image) were more likely to catch Covid on a plane compared to those in business class

Mr Powell said this was because seats are more closely packed together in economy compared to business class (pictured: Library image)

More than 280,000 people infected with coronavirus and facing Christmas alone can now safely enjoy festivities with their families after a change in isolation rules.

Health chiefs have today announced those who test positive for Covid can be released after seven days, rather than 10, providing they take two lateral flow tests at the end of that period.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said infected patients can take the tests 24 hours apart on day six and seven of their isolation period, which if negative means they can stop quarantining.

This means the 102,875 people who tested positive on December 15, the 95,058 positive cases the following day, and a further 82,945 people who contracted the virus on December 17, will be free to enjoy Christmas together with loved ones under the new rules.

It has also been hailed as a major boost to the NHS, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly among those concerned at the number of staff who’ve been off work with the virus under the 10-day rule.

However, unvaccinated adults who have come into contact with someone infected with Covid must still self-isolate until 10 days after their estimated date of exposure to the virus.

‘The greatest protection you can give yourself is to be vaccinated and boosted. 

‘The protection that you give yourself from an extra mask or a different type of mask, or not flying at all, frankly, is probably less than the benefit you would get from just being fully boosted.’

Mr Powell also said aircraft passengers were likely at a higher risk at airports than on planes.

He said: ‘The requirements for airflows on board are much more stringent than they are for airport buildings generally.’

‘The protections for the airline cabin are: everybody stays seated, facing the same direction, there are these physical barriers that are in the way, you have a high degree of airflow that’s by and large from ceiling to floor, minimal drift along the airplane, a little bit more drift across the airplane.’

His comments come as at least 30 countries have so far slapped travel bans on Britons due to the rise in Omicron cases across the UK, particularly in London.  

France has banned non-essential travel from the UK while Germany imposed a two week quarantine on British travellers.

It comes as Boris Johnson today hit the brakes on Christmas lockdown as scientists concluded the Omicron strain is likely to be milder than Delta.

The PM declared last night that Christmas can definitely go ahead ‘cautiously’, but warned that the government is tracking the spread of the mutant strain hour by hour and is ‘ready’ to act after December 25 if necessary.

However, in a glimmer of light there are claims today that the UK Health Security Agency has tentatively backed suggestions that Omicron infections tend to be less severe.

The scientists also endorsed previous findings that booster jabs offer significant protection from developing symptoms and ending up in hospital, according to Politico. Another South African study has suggested the risk of hospitalisation is 80 per cent lower with the variant.

The evidence – due to be published formally in the coming days – does not mean that the threat from the variant can be ignored, as it is so transmissible that large numbers are set to end up needing urgent care.

The number of Omicron cases reported in the UK is increasing slower than scientists predicted. However some experts fear that the country has hit the limit of its testing capacity and that this is throttling the data

Prepare to drive home for Christmas: Now rail bosses warn crucial services could be CANCELLED as thousands try to scramble home in time for December 25 with staffing levels decimated by Omicron 

Christmas train travel is already being badly disrupted by Omicron – and is only going to get worse – with almost one in ten railway staff now off sick or isolating as the Government slashed the isolation period for the fully vaccinated from ten days to seven days. 

Britons now being told to travel as soon as possible over the festive period because of growing cancellations, it was revealed today.

The UK Rail Delivery Group has said that around one in 20 services were cancelled in the past week – up from an average of one in 40 – with passengers urged to check their train is running before they leave home.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus. 

Almost ten per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolation, up one per cent in a month, while Transport for London says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus.

Omicron is causing staff shortages in all areas of the UK, with hospitals in parts of England with the highest infection rates predicting that one-third of NHS staff could be off sick by January. 

Bin collections have been disrupted while at Heathrow staffing shortages caused pre-Christmas travel ‘chaos’ with delays at check-in, passport control and baggage reclaim. 

Royal Mail chiefs are warning of delays to postal services this Christmas, with Amazon stepping in to help deliver lateral flow tests. 

Train companies have blamed the wave of cancellations on staff sickness and isolation requirements, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent over the last week.  On Monday, 13 per cent of UK trains were either cancelled or delayed. More than one in 20 trains were cancelled in the seven days before Monday, up from the annual average of 2.9 per cent.

Operators yesterday pleaded with travellers to book on to earlier services, while warning of last-minute cancellations in the days ahead. 

Train companies say they are taking extra measures to ensure people can get where they need to be, such as running longer trains, cancelling non-safety-critical training to prioritise services, and providing better information about busy trains.  

Last night the self-isolation period was cut to seven days from ten days, meaning hundreds of thousands of people currently stuck at home will now be able to see family by Christmas Day. Officials cut the quarantine time for confirmed virus cases as long as they test negative with a lateral flow two days in a row. 

The decision is also an attempt to stave off the staffing crisis being caused by Omicron, with the public sector, businesses and the NHS being hit by huge levels of absence. 

 

Government sources are adamant that it did not play a part in the decision on Christmas last night.  

However, the apparent findings will be a significant boost to the PM as he weighs up whether to bring in even tougher restrictions as early as next week. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this morning that Mr Johnson ‘could not be working harder than he is’, saying they are constantly receiving briefings and meeting two-three times a day. 

Among the evidence either received by Mr Johnson or due soon is Imperial Modelling on Omicron and the latest hospitalisation details. 

Welsh First minister Mark Drakeford heaped more pressure on the PM today by effectively cancelling large-scale New Year celebrations, with rule of six in pubs and restaurants from Boxing Day, a 30 limit on indoor events and a 50 limit outdoors. 

Nicola Sturgeon unveiled similar steps in Scotland yesterday, reintroducing limits on households mixing, table service in hospitality and crowds at major events after Christmas.  

In a round of interviews this morning, health minister Gillian Keegan said ‘we haven’t received that officially yet’ when asked about the UKHA conclusions. She also pointed out that the cases, while dramatically up, are still way off the grim predictions of some scientific models. 

However, Ms Keegan did caution that people must be ready to cancel New Year parties at short notice. 

A mooted ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown would be devastating for already-stricken businesses, as well as ruining the New Year plans of millions. 

There are claims that the government is watching hospitalisations in London, and could act if the number rises above 400 a day.

Another 90,629 Covid cases were recorded in 24 hours across the UK yesterday, along with 172 deaths. 

A further 15,363 infections with the Omicron variant have been confirmed, bringing the total to 60,508 – although the pace of spread looks slower than initially feared. 

Mr Javid told broadcasters this afternoon: ‘We keep the data under review at all times.

‘It is fast-changing, the situation, there’s more data not just here from home but from abroad – we keep an eye on all that data and discuss it with our expert advisers.

‘As the Prime Minister has said, whilst there’s no need for any further restrictions before Christmas we will certainly keep the situation under review.’

On plans for New Year, Mr Javid said: ‘The best advice to everyone is continue to remain cautious and keep looking forward to Christmas.’  

It comes as Christmas train travel is already being badly disrupted by Omicron – and is only going to get worse – with almost one in ten railway staff now off sick or isolating as the Government slashed the isolation period for the fully vaccinated from ten days to seven days. 

Britons now being told to travel as soon as possible over the festive period because of growing cancellations, it was revealed today.

The UK Rail Delivery Group has said that around one in 20 services were cancelled in the past week – up from an average of one in 40 – with passengers urged to check their train is running before they leave home.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus. 

Almost ten per cent of railway staff are off sick or isolation, up one per cent in a month, while Transport for London says around 500 of its frontline staff are currently off work due to ‘Covid-related illness’.

Passengers face being crammed into carriages in the coming days because of reduced timetables caused by staff shortages, raising concerns of an increase in transmission of the virus.

Omicron is causing staff shortages in all areas of the UK, with hospitals in parts of England with the highest infection rates predicting that one-third of NHS staff could be off sick by January. 

Bin collections have been disrupted while at Heathrow staffing shortages caused pre-Christmas travel ‘chaos’ with delays at check-in, passport control and baggage reclaim. 

A deserted London Victoria station during rush hour this morning at a time when it would have usually be teeming with people

The usually packed Northern Line was also quiet at just before 8am this morning

Royal Mail chiefs are warning of delays to postal services this Christmas, with Amazon stepping in to help deliver lateral flow tests. 

Train companies have blamed the wave of cancellations on staff sickness and isolation requirements, with almost 9 per cent of staff absent over the last week.  On Monday, 13 per cent of UK trains were either cancelled or delayed. More than one in 20 trains were cancelled in the seven days before Monday, up from the annual average of 2.9 per cent.

Operators yesterday pleaded with travellers to book on to earlier services, while warning of last-minute cancellations in the days ahead. 

Train companies say they are taking extra measures to ensure people can get where they need to be, such as running longer trains, cancelling non-safety-critical training to prioritise services, and providing better information about busy trains.  

Last night the self-isolation period was cut to seven days from ten days, meaning hundreds of thousands of people currently stuck at home will now be able to see family by Christmas Day. Officials cut the quarantine time for confirmed virus cases as long as they test negative with a lateral flow two days in a row. 

The decision is also an attempt to stave off the staffing crisis being caused by Omicron, with the public sector, businesses and the NHS being hit by huge levels of absence. 

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