Denmark to study infectiousness of UK Covid variant: SSI

Denmark's infectious diseases agency SSI is setting up a study which it hopes be able to determine whether the UK variant of Covid-19 is indeed 70 percent more transmissible, with the first results expected within "one or two weeks".

Denmark to study infectiousness of UK Covid variant: SSI
Tyra grove Krause, head of division at SSI. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix
Tyra Grove Krause, head of the agency's research unit, told The Local that  her agency aimed to look closely at whether those infected with the new UK variant were more likely to spread coronavirus to others living in the same household.  
“We want to look at household attack rates for this variant compared to other variants, but we only setting up these studies now,” she said. 
“I think we'll need to wait a bit before we can get some valid results on this, one or two weeks or something like that.” 
So far, she said, data from samples collected by SSI had not yet shown that the UK variant was 70 percent more infectious than other variants, as UK health authorities have estimated. 
“We cannot see that the proportion of this new variant among the sequenced samples [is growing],” she said. “It's still quite stable. But maybe that's because we have this lockdown situation now, and because it's still at a very low level — in less than 0.5 percent of our sequenced samples.” 
She pointed out that in the UK it had taken several months from the point at which the new variant was identified in September, before it began to increase exponentially. 
“Maybe that's also what we are seeing in Denmark now, and then maybe at some point, it will really start to transmit when we have more people infected with it.” 
Grove Krause said the detailed information Denmark has on its population meant SSI researchers could identify which people share a home, and then connect that information with positive test results. 
“This means that we can follow transmission within households, or look at how many people test positive within a household when  an index case occurs,” she explained. 
“This is something that we can follow at the national level, and then see whether the transmission rates within household changes in certain areas, for instance, because of a more transmissible virus.” 
She said that there were signs that the UK variant was more common around the city of Aalborg. 
“We have seen a higher proportion of cases in northern Jutland,  so that could be an area we would be interested to look further into.” 
As well as studying the household attack rate of the new variant,  SSI had also increased its sequencing capacity and was also developing a modified PCR test which will be able to identify the variant — although she said the mutation picked up was also present in a Romanian variety and in some mink varieties that have developed in Denmark. 
She said she hoped that the hard lockdown Denmark had put in place for the first two weeks of the year would keep the UK variant in check. 
“We hope that we have this variant at such a low level and that these measures will prevent it from spreading further right now, but of course, we will follow the situation very closely.” 
The early signs, she said, were that the lockdown imposed in mid-December was starting to bring the current surge in infections under control. 
“It now seems that we've reached a peak in newly admitted patients, and we hope that that will decrease soon with the measures that have been put in place,” she said. 
“But now we have a lot of uncertainties around Christmas, where, you know, the testing patterns change. So right now, it's a bit difficult to assess exactly where we are.” 

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”