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ON POINT: Expert's take on global spread of omicron variant Updated: 2021-12-09 05:30:18 KST

Now it’s time for On Point, where we speak to experts to delve deeper into the biggest news stories in the spotlight right now.
The end of 2021, much like the end of 2020, is again going to be dominated by COVID-19.
There’s the emergence of the omicron variant, new daily infections setting record highs day after day in Korea and the number of critically-ill patients is putting a tremendous strain on the country’s health care system.
There’s emerging evidence - although not yet proven - that shows the strain is more transmissible than any other variant that has come before it.
Scientists are in a race against time to find answers to all the questions swirling about omicron and how severe its impact could be on health care systems and the vaccinations we currently have.
For more, we are joined by Ben Cowling, Chair Professor of Epidemiology at The University of Hong Kong.
Professor, preliminary data shows omicron is doubling in cases worldwide every two to two-and-a-half days. Some experts say it will overtake delta as the dominant strain within weeks. First, do you agree and, if so, what timeframe are we are looking at?

So far, South Korea has only confirmed a few dozen omicron cases. However, considering not much is known about its symptoms, are you concerned the actual number is much higher, carriers are out and about spreading it and we are sitting on a ticking time bomb?

South Korea has seen COVID-19 cases skyrocket in recent weeks.
Until now, you could argue South Korea has seen a relatively small number of cases, But it was only yesterday that figures topped seven-thousand cases in a day for the first time. Based on what we’ve seen in other countries, should Korea expect the situation to get far worse in the coming weeks?

Finally, when there’s a vacuum of information, it’s human nature that rumors start to spread. The latest speculation in South Korea is that omicron can be transmitted through the air. There was a report out of Hong Kong that said omicron infected two fully vaccinated people staying in different hotel rooms. It’s purely speculative, but what would the implications if this strain is capable of airborne transmission?

Professor Cowling, as always, a pleasure to hear your insights and thank you for joining us again.
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