Covid-19 parties where people make every effort to become infected at a time convenient to them have been condemned by the World Health Organisation after social media users boasted about their antics.
Global health leaders have expressed concern over the gatherings, saying healthy people who contract the virus run the risk of developing long Covid and passing the disease to the vulnerable.
An Australian bride-to-be was among those taking part in a so-called Covid bash, hugging strangers and sharing drinks with revellers at a club in Melbourne in a bid to catch the virus six weeks before her nuptials.
Another example of a deliberate bid to contract the virus was played out in a TikTok video apparently showing a mother drinking from her Covid-infected daughter’s glass “so we aren’t in extended isolation”.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid, said it is “dangerous” for people to question whether they would be better off contracting Omicron sooner rather than later because the risk of death from the virus remains.
“I don't know if you've seen on social media, or if you've heard people say, 'Well, why bother? Omicron is everywhere and I might as well just get infected now'”, she told a social media briefing.
“That's a very dangerous question and it's one worth answering.
“The reason we don't want this virus to circulate is number one, your chance of developing severe disease is real. If you have underlying conditions, are of an older age, if you've not received a vaccination, you could die. And that's what we want to prevent and we can prevent that.
“But you can also pass the virus to somebody else who is more vulnerable. And we are just learning about a post-Covid condition — long Covid.”
She went on to say the global health body is still unsure about the long-term implications of Omicron, months after the variant was first detected in southern Africa.
The variant spreads more easily than the Delta variant but seems to cause less-severe infection.
However, the WHO chief warned that people who have contracted Omicron could encounter health problems further down the line, long after they have stop showing symptoms.
“We don't know the implications of Omicron, which replicates in the upper respiratory tract as opposed to the lower respiratory tract, and if that has any implication on your chances of developing longer-term effects,” said Dr Van Kerkhove. “So that's reason enough not to get infected. But there are so many unknowns.”
In a 15-second video posted on TikTok, an Australian woman could be seen embracing clubbers and swapping drinks with fellow partygoers during a night out in Melbourne.
The clip, titled “Catch Covid, not feelings” attracted more than 120,000 views.
Sharing the post on the social media platform, she wrote: “POV [point of view] your wedding is in six weeks and you still haven’t had Covid.”