The new coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading rapidly. More than 156,700 people are known to be infected and over 5,800 deaths have been recorded worldwide.
Most of the new cases registered every day are now out of China and the virus is spreading at a certain rate across Europe.
There have now been 1,140 confirmed cases in the UK, although 10,000 people are thought to be infected and 21 patients have died. More than 37,000 people have been tested in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Experts have warned for years that the world is lagging behind a serious epidemic, but there is much that individuals can do to protect themselves and others.
This practical guide is designed to protect you and will be updated daily. It is supported by expert advice from the NHS and beyond.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, made the leap in humans, but most cause only cold-like symptoms.
Two coronaviruses – Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – are much more serious, having killed over 1,500 people since 2002.
The new virus, officially known as Covid-19, is also more dangerous than the common cold. So far, around 15-20% of hospital cases have been classified as “severe” and the current mortality rate varies between 0.7% and 3.4% depending on the location and, above all, access to good hospital care.
This is much lower than Mers (30%) or Sars (10%), but still represents a significant threat.
Chinese scientists believe that Covid-19 has mutated into two strains, one more aggressive than the other, which could make vaccine development more complicated.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of coronavirus usually include:
- A dry cough
- A temperature
- Shortness of breath (in severe cases)
Some patients may have “aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea,” adds the WHO. “These symptoms are generally mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but do not develop any symptoms and do not feel bad.”
These symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases including flu and colds. So if you have symptoms, consider the following:
- Have you traveled to a high-risk area such as China, South Korea or Northern Italy in the past two weeks?
- You have been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
How fast do the symptoms emerge?
Symptoms are believed to appear between two and 10 days after the virus has contracted, but it may take up to 24 days.
Most people (around 80%) recover from the disease without requiring special care. However, about one in six people (16%) fall seriously ill and develop breathing difficulties.
Older people and those with basic medical problems such as hypertension, heart problems, lung disease or diabetes are more likely to develop serious diseases.
When Should I Seek Medical Assistance?
People who have difficulty breathing must consult a doctor quickly. But don’t go out. Instead, you should call NHS 111.
If you only have a fever and a cough – the main early symptoms of coronavirus – the government now advises you to isolate yourself for seven days. This will help protect others.
If you live alone, ask your employer, friends and family to help you get the things you need.
If you live with others, try to stay at least 2 meters away from other people. Also sleep alone, if possible. And stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
It is not necessary to call NHS 111 for self-insulation. But if symptoms worsen during home isolation or do not improve after seven days, contact NHS 111 online. If you don’t have Internet access, you must call NHS 111.
For a 999 medical emergency dial.
What if I feel good but have recently returned from a high risk area?
In some cases, you may be asked to quarantine to protect others even if you have no symptoms but have traveled to a high-risk area.
Use this NHS counseling tool to find out what to do to protect yourself and others.
Do not go to a doctor, pharmacy or hospital as if you have the virus that could infect others.
How to “self-isolate” if you think you have coronavirus
If you think you have the virus, you should try isolating or quarantining yourself.
This means that you should:
- Stay at home
- Avoid work, school and other public areas
- Avoid public transportation and taxis
- Bring friends and family to deliver food, medicine, etc. Rather than going to the stores
- Discourage visitors
How does the new coronavirus spread and how can I protect myself?
Hand hygiene is the first and most important line of defense.
Like cold and flu bugs, the new virus spreads through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets land on the surfaces and are collected by the hands of others and spread further. People get the virus when they touch infected hands to the mouth, nose or eyes.
It follows that the only most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitizing gel.
Also try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands – something we all unconsciously do on average about 15 times an hour.
Other suggestions include:
- Take a hand sanitizer with you to simplify frequent hand cleaning
- Always wash your hands before eating or touching your face
- Pay particular attention to touching things and then touching your face in crowded airports and other public transportation systems
- Bring disposable tissues with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue with care (take it, pick it up, kill it)
- Don’t share snacks from packets or bowls that others are dipping their fingers into
- Avoid shaking hands or kissing the cheeks if viruses are suspected
- Regularly clean not only your hands but also commonly used surfaces and devices you touch or handle
Are only the droplets from the nose and mouth to spread the new virus?
Probably not, but they are by far the most common risk.
The NHS and WHO are informing doctors that the virus is likely to be contained in other body secretions including blood, feces and urine.
Again, hand and surface hygiene is the key.
How can I protect my family, especially children?
Children are an important vector for the spread of droplet-based viruses because they physically interact so much with each other and are not the best at keeping clean.
The virus appears to have a more common impact on the elderly, but children can become infected and contract serious diseases, warns the government.
However, you can significantly reduce the risk that children pose to spread or catch viruses:
Explaining to them how germs spread and the importance of good hand and face hygiene
Keep home surfaces clean, especially kitchens, bathrooms, door handles and light switches
Use clean or disposable cloths to clean surfaces so as not to transfer germs from one surface to another
Give everyone their own towel and make sure they don’t know how to share toothbrushes, etc.
Keep your home dry and airy (insects thrive in moldy environments)
What about face masks – do they work?
Paper masks are not recommended by Public Health England, the National Health Service or other major health authorities for ordinary citizens, and with good reason.
They are unsuitable and what protection they might initially provide expires soon. Worse still, they quickly become moist inside, providing the perfect environment for germ proliferation. They also become a danger to others if carelessly discarded.
An exception would be if symptoms such as coughing or sneezing occur, so a mask could help prevent the spread of the virus to others in crowded places.
More information on the masks here.
Can the new coronavirus be treated?
There is no simple cure for the new coronavirus, just as there is no cure for the common cold.
In the vast majority of cases, the disease is only mild. Symptoms such as fever and general discomfort can be treated with aspirin and ibuprofen or packaged cold and flu remedies containing the same.
It is in the most serious cases, in which pneumonia develops, that the danger is found. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics and, at least for the moment, there are no specific antivirals for this particular virus.
Instead, doctors focus on supporting patients’ lung function in the best possible way and can receive oxygen or place them on a respirator (ventilator) in severe cases.
Other symptoms such as fever and discomfort will be treated with drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Secondary infections can be treated with antibiotics.
Are some groups of people more at risk than others?
Data from China suggests that people of all ages are at risk of contracting the virus, although older people are more likely to develop serious diseases.
People with a reduced chance of surviving pneumonia include:
Of the first 425 confirmed deaths across mainland China, 80% were people over the age of 60 and 75% had some form of underlying disease.
Is there a vaccine for coronavirus?
At the moment there is no vaccine, but scientists from all over the world are rushing to produce one thanks to China’s prompt sharing of the genetic code of the virus.
However, any potential vaccines will not be available for up to one year and would likely be given to healthcare professionals most at risk of contracting the virus first. In addition, researchers in China believe that the virus may have mutated into two strains, one of which is highly aggressive, making it more difficult to find a vaccine.
For now, it is a case of containment and increase in hospital capacity in the treatment of patients. The British government’s conornavirus action plan aims to delay and flatten the disease epidemic curve to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed as happened in Wuhan.
The ability to treat patients in need of hospital care will be a major challenge for the NHS if the virus seizes the UK: do your best to help slow the epidemic by following the advice above.
What’s going on at UK airports?
Public Health England has announced “better tracking of direct flights” from China and many other locations.
At other major airports around the world, authorities have gone further and are checking the temperatures of passengers on arrival and distributing hand sanitizers to combat the spread of the virus.
Research suggests that hand cleaning at Heathrow and nine other global air hubs could reduce the spread of the virus by up to 40%.
Where is the best place to sit on an airplane?
The best place to sit is in a window seat in the middle of the cabin, research suggests. This is because it reduces the risk of getting infected with droplets released by people walking up and down the corridors (as shown below):
What is the difference between a coronavirus and a flu virus?
Coronaviruses and influenza viruses can cause similar symptoms but genetically they are very different.
“Influenza viruses incubate very quickly – symptoms tend to develop after two or three days after infection, but coronaviruses take much longer,” says epidemic scientist at Imperial College professor Neil Ferguson from London.
“[With the] influenza viruses become immune, but many different viruses circulate. Coronaviruses do not evolve in the same way as influenza, with many different strains, but in the same way our body does not generate very good immunity. “
What are the risks if the coronavirus changes?
Chinese officials have warned that the virus is already starting to mutate and that there are two strains in circulation.
“The concern is that if you have a new virus that is exploring a human host, it is possible that they can mutate and spread more easily in humans,” Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham told The Telegraph.
The genetic sequence of the virus shows a slow mutation rate, adds prof. Ferguson. “Could it change to become more lethal and transmissible? This is speculation.”