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A patient at an entrance to the emergency department at Caritas Medical Center in Hong Kong, China.

Low vaccination rates in Hong Kong have contributed to the latest outbreaks’ severity.Credit: Bertha Wang/Bloomberg/Getty

‘COVID zero’ and vaccine complacency

In the handful of places around the world that effectively stopped COVID-19 transmission — including Taiwan, Macau, the Chinese mainland and Western Australia — vaccine complacency has become an unintended side effect of their success. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong: as of 7 February, only a third of people over 80 years old had received one vaccine dose, and hospitals are already being overwhelmed by people with Omicron. “With the low vaccination rate we have currently, I’m really concerned,” says epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling. “Omicron, we know it’s a little bit milder, but actually in people that are not vaccinated, it’s not that mild.”

Some regions have been able to overcome early complacency. In Tonga, the Ministry of Health, supported by the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s charity UNICEF, visited every village — including those on remote outer islands — to speak to people about vaccines and answer questions.

Nature | 5 min read

How Omicron overtook Delta in three charts

A detailed analysis by the UK Health Security Agency, which has not yet been peer reviewed, reveals how the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads so fast compared with the previously dominant variant. People infected with Omicron are more likely to spread it both inside and outside the home. And the variant is better at infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint

COMPARING VARIANTS. Chart showing that Omicron variant is more easily passed than Delta regardless of vaccination status.

THE VACCINE EFFECT. Chart shows that having 3 vaccination doses is less effective at preventing Omicron than Delta variants.

BLOCKING TRANSMISSION. Chart shows vaccinated people are less likely to spread the Delta or Omicron variant to their household.

Ukrainians in Antarctica ‘in agony’

Twelve scientists, engineers and support staff were nearing the end of a 13-month stint at Ukraine’s Vernadsky Station in Antarctica when Russia invaded their country. “It’s really agonizing to be here unable to fight the occupation of my homeland,” says station physician Andrii Khytryi. “For some, it is close to unbearable.” Nor do they know when they might be able to return home. Staff who were due to relieve them are now fighting or trapped in Ukrainian cities under Russian bombardment, according to Ukraine’s National Antarctic Scientific Center.

Wired | 6 min read

For Nature subscribers

Indri-Indri is the largest living species of lemurs and are found around a giant nickel-cobalt mine in Madagascar.

The indri (Indri indri), the world’s largest lemur, lives in the forest around an immense mine in eastern Madagascar.Credit: Sebastien Desbureaux

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

Huge mine on track for striking conservation success

An ambitious goal to prevent Madagascar’s biggest mine from causing net forest loss is on track for success, according to a statistical analysis. Mine officials pledged to completely offset the degradation and clearing of more than 2,000 hectares of natural forest by reducing forest loss at 4 sites in Madagascar where deforestation is rampant. The researchers found that, by January 2020, the mine had offset 79% of its forest loss, and was on track to avoid a net loss of forest by the end of 2021.

Soft gels assemble into hard plastic — and it’s recyclable

Sturdy 3D-printed objects can be broken down into materials that can be used to print new objects.

Huge comet is biggest of its kind

Comet Bernardinelli–Bernstei is roughly 140 kilometres across — nearly twice as large as Comet Hale–Bopp — making it by far the largest comet from the farthest reaches of the Solar System.

COVID rapid tests show high accuracy

In a trial in 73 workplaces, the tests detected hundreds of people with asymptomatic COVID-19 and generated very few false positives.

Itchy vicuñas remade a vast wilderness

An outbreak of mange among a population of the llama-like beasts kicked off a cascade of ecological effects in the high Andes.

Nature’s Research Highlights are available to readers with subscriber access to Nature. Get help logging in with your institution’s subscription.

Features & opinion

Luc Montagnier: co-discoverer of HIV

Virologist Luc Montagnier won the Nobel prize for co-discovering HIV — work that made it possible to develop diagnostic tests and treatments that have saved countless lives. But he spent his later years dismantling that hard-won reputation by espousing fringe theories, including some that have fed into COVID-19 misinformation campaigns. He died on 8 February at the age of 89.

Nature | 5 min read

How to win an XPRIZE

Public and private institutions around the world are making use of science competitions to tap the brains of international talents, with some prizes — such as the XPRIZEs and the Earthshot Prize — running into millions of dollars. Contest organizers, investors and winners share their tips for emerging victorious and ways to use competitions to get a head start in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Nature | 9 min read

Food crisis ripples outward from Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, is disrupting the world’s food supply, argue food-systems researchers Michael Puma and Megan Konar. Particularly vulnerable are Bangladesh, Sudan and Pakistan, which acquire most of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine, and Afghanistan, where famine is already looming. Food prices have already been inflated by pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions and the use of crops as biofuels instead of food. “The international community should act now to keep food prices down and ensure that grain supplies reach vulnerable countries,” argue the authors.

The New York Times | 5 min read

Where is all this rain coming from?

At any one time, Earth’s atmosphere holds only about a week’s worth of rain — but heavy rain has been falling for weeks in eastern Australia, and more is forecast. Three researchers explain where all the water is coming from. “By following moisture from the oceans to the land, we worked out exactly how three oceans feed water to the atmosphere,” they write. “A better understanding of how water moves through the atmosphere is vital to more accurately forecast severe weather.”

The Conversation | 5 min read

Reference: Journal of Climate paper

Where I work

Lucía Spangenberg uses the Mk1c Sequencer to determine the DNA sequence of an organism or portions of the human genome.

Lucía Spangenberg is a bioinformatician affiliated with the Pasteur Institute of Montevideo in Uruguay and co-founder of the company GenLives. She is also a teacher at the Catholic University of Uruguay.Credit: Pablo Albarenga for Nature

Bioinformatician Lucía Spangenberg is helping to make genetic sequencing available to anyone who needs it. “In this picture I’m using a MinION Mk1C, a portable, cheap and easy-to-use DNA-sequencing machine, to detect SARS-CoV-2 in a nasal swab,” she says. Spangenberg co-founded a start-up, called GenLives, to bring the benefits of genetic sequencing to more people in Uruguay. “Doing genetic sequencing this easily is still exciting to me,” she says. “This field has such huge potential to help people with rare diseases, who might otherwise spend years without a correct diagnosis.” (Nature | 3 min read)