Cork-based professors have weighed in on how best people can protect themselves from the new variant of Covid-19.
On 26 November, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the variant B.1.1.529 variant, named Omicron, a variant of concern, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).
The decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, such as how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.
While it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, the number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by the variant.
Speaking to The Echo, Professor of Physical Chemistry at University College Cork (UCC) John Sodeau said that the past couple of years have been like “living in a real-world air pollution experiment”.
“We’ve got used to the presence of biological particles like pollen, fungal spores and bacteria in our air over hundreds of years.
“Sometimes we forget how important the air is to us. We can live for about three weeks without food, about three days without water but probably about three minutes without air. Let’s keep it as clean as possible,” he said.
He said that his colleague John Wenger from the Centre for Research into Atmospheric Chemistry (CRAC) has been tireless in campaigning for good ventilation and air filtration because “pristine air is the minimum we require to be healthy given that we spend about 90% of our time indoors”.
Speaking to The Echo, Professor Wenger said: “We need to double down on our efforts to prevent transmission. I strongly recommend wearing higher quality FFP2/N95 masks instead of cloth face coverings and surgical masks.
Meanwhile, Professor Sodeau said that while we cannot do much about the release of coronavirus, “we can do a lot for the big picture by stopping the release of respiratory-damaging small particles from lighting coal, wood - wet or dry - and peat fires at any time”.
“Stopping the burning of fossil fuels will reduce respiratory and cardio damage as well as cases of diabetes and dementia.
“And what could be more sensible than that in a world being relentlessly attacked by a tiny biological killer, which attacks our respiratory system as its point of entry?” he said.