How do you test for the Covid-19 virus?

If a doctor suspects a person has the virus, they will swab the person’s nose and throat and, if they are able to produce sputum, get a sputum sample and send these to a Public Health England laboratory. Scientists then amplify genetic material called RNA in the samples and look for sections that match the virus’s RNA. The test takes 24 to 48 hours. Once the result is available it is sent back to the clinician who informs the person whether they tested positive or not.

When should I keep my children away from school?

People who have recently returned from any of the northern Italian towns that are under containment should self-isolate, whether or not they have symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, or fever. They should stay at home, inform NHS 111 of their travel details, and await advice for further assessment or testing.

There are 10 affected towns in the Lombardy region of Italy, namely Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano, and one in the Veneto region, Vo’ Euganeo. The same guidance goes for any travellers returning from Wuhan city and Hubei province in China, Iran, and Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea.

Schools are issuing specific advice if they suspect pupils may be infected. If you believe your child has contracted the virus through a different route, call NHS 111 for advice.


What if I’ve returned from a coronavirus zone?

In addition to the areas above, Public Health England has drawn up a list of 14 regions. Travellers returning from these areas should self-isolate if they develop coronavirus symptoms. These are Cambodia, the rest of China, other areas of Italy north of Florence and Pisa, Hong Kong, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. People returning home from these parts do not need to self-isolate if they do not have coronavirus symptoms.

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What if I have a holiday planned to Italy, Croatia or Austria etc?

Travel to most European destinations is unaffected, but this may change as the virus spreads. So far, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to the Italian towns that are in isolation to contain the virus, but has not imposed restrictions on other parts of Europe. The Association of British Insurers has put out information on the implications for travel insurance. If you travel against government advice, you are likely to invalidate your insurance.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.

Justin McCurry

Or to elsewhere in the world?

Go and enjoy yourself. The only area government advises people to avoid completely because of coronavirus is Hubei, the Chinese province where the virus first emerged. It advises against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China and to the cities of Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea. Travellers to some parts of Asia may face screening on arrival, and many have imposed restrictions on people who have recently been in China or other affected countries. Officials may deny entry or require people to be quarantined. If you have holiday plans and are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, talk to your airline or travel company. The situation is moving fast, so for the latest travel guidance see the Public Health England and Foreign and Commonwealth Office websites.

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What does self-isolation involve?

People who need to self-isolate should stay at home except when they need medical care. They must avoid work, school, public areas and not use public transport or taxis until told it is safe for them to do so. The person should stay in a separate, well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened. Ideally, they should use a separate bathroom, but if this is not possible, consider a bathroom rota where the isolated person washes and bathes last and then, if they are well enough, cleans the facilities thoroughly. They should use separate towels from others in the household. Everyone should follow basic hygiene rules: wash your hands, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze, and put used tissues in the bin immediately.

If I’m worried, how can I get a test?

Anyone who fears they have contracted the virus should call NHS 111 as a first port of call. They will assess what you need to do, decide whether you need a test, and if so, where you can go for one. The NHS has begun to pilot home testing for coronavirus in London, so if you have symptoms, you may not need to travel to get tested.



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