We all know that the worst thing that you can do in a crisis is panic. But this is easier said than done when news headlines reporting the spread of a novel Coronavirus warn of a global health pandemic, stock market crashes, and food shortages. People are in quarantine, people are dying, entire cities are on lock down. So, how are we meant to stay calm?
First and foremost, don’t rely purely on the headlines. The only information that can be trusted is from the World Health Organisation, the NHS and the GOV.UK website. We’ve combed through each source to put together some facts, as well as dispel some of the fake news.
WHAT IS COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that causes illness in humans and some animals. In humans, coronaviruses can cause respiratory infections with symptoms like coughing, fever and difficulty breathing. Some other types of coronavirus are Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
COVID-19 is the most recently discovered coronavirus and it seems to have originated in the Hubei province in China in December 2019. This current outbreak is the first time humans have encountered this specific coronavirus.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
COVID-19 is a droplet infection, meaning that it is spread by the droplets an infected person produces when they cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can travel through the air and be breathed in by other people, therefore infecting them.
However, the droplets are large and cannot travel very far in the air (only around 1 metre), so if you’re not in the immediate vicinity of an infected person, you probably won’t catch the virus by breathing in their droplets.
The problem is that these COVID-19 droplets fall and settle on surfaces like tables, door handles and phones. COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for an unspecified amount of time (current estimates are any time between a few hours and a few days), meaning if you touch a contaminated surface, and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose without washing your hands, you risk becoming infected. This is why there is such a huge emphasis on hand washing. It is the single most effective way of protecting yourself and should not be underrated.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms vary in severity between patients, but seem to begin with a fever and tiredness, followed by a dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. In 80% of patients, these symptoms will be mild and won’t require hospital treatment.
However, some patients (around 1 in 6) will become seriously ill and might develop pneumonia, a tight feeling in the chest as well as breathing difficulties. Often, these people have underlying illnesses that make them more vulnerable, for example an autoimmune disease, diabetes or heart disease.
Everyone who experiences symptoms of COVID-19 and has reason to believe they could have been exposed to someone who is infected should stay at home and call 111 for advice. Anyone who is experiencing difficulty breathing should call 999 and ask for an ambulance, flagging to the operator that they have symptoms of COVID-19.
HOW DO I STAY SAFE?
There are two main ways to protect yourself from COVID-19. Firstly, wash your hands. Wash them for at least 20 seconds, with soap and warm water. Always wash your hands before touching your face and before eating.
If you can’t wash your hands you should use a hand sanitiser with an alcohol content of more than 60%. If your hand sanitiser does not contain 60% alcohol, it will not be effective. Alcoholic drinks such as wine and spirits do not work as hand sanitiser. Obviously.
Secondly, practice good respiratory hygiene. If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue, throw it away and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, use your elbow to mask your nose and mouth. Also, stay at least one metre away from anyone who is coughing – and don’t hesitate to move away from someone coughing if you are too close.
Other things you can do is try not to touch too many surfaces, especially in public areas like public transport or touch points like door handles and payment machines. Rub your phone down with an alcohol-based sanitiser regularly, as well as your desk and workspace.
There is little evidence that wearing a mask will offer much protection, and masks should only be worn if you have symptoms of COVID-19, or if you are caring for someone who has been diagnosed. Medical masks are single use and must be worn properly in order to be effective, with no gaps around the edges and without touching the front of the mask. Don’t use a mask unless you really need to.
WHAT DO I DO IF I FEEL ILL?
If you have returned from any of the following areas, you need to self-isolate for 14 days after from the date of return, even if you feel well:
Hubei province in China
Lockdown areas in northern Italy
Special care zones in South Korea
If you have returned from any of the places below and experience any symptoms (no matter how mild!), stay indoors and avoid contact with other people:
Mainland China outside of Hubei province
Italy outside of the lockdown areas
South Korea outside of the special care zones
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are worried you have been exposed to the virus, do not go to your GP, or to A&E. Stay in isolation and call 111 for advice, or 999 if your symptoms are life threatening.
If you have a fever of over 38 degree Celsius or flu-like symptoms, you should not go to work. Technically, this advice applies all the time and is not specific to the COVID-19 outbreak but we should all take it more seriously in the current circumstances.
HOW DO I SELF-ISOLATE?
Self-isolation is tricky, especially if you live with other people. However, if you have been told to self-isolate you should try as much as possible to avoid all contact with others. This means staying in a different room, and using a different bathroom if possible (if you only have one bathroom, it should be cleaned thoroughly after every use). You should use the kitchen at different times to everyone else, and clean it thoroughly when you’re done. Keep your room well ventilated by opening a window, catch any coughs or sneezes in a tissue and throw used tissues in a plastic bag and then in the bin.
Don’t go to any public places including supermarkets, restaurants or parks, don’t use any public transport or taxis. Basically, don’t leave your house.
FAKE VS FACT
“Dogs can get COVID-19 from humans”
There is no evidence to suggest that dogs or cats have been infected, nor that they can spread the virus.
“You shouldn’t eat Chinese food”
There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food.
“Antibiotics cure COVID-19”
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and are ineffective against viruses. Misuse of antibiotics can cause resistance and should be avoided.
“There is no cure for COVID-19”
At present, there is no vaccine or anti-viral drug that is effective against COVID-19. However, both are in the research stages of development, with a vaccine already being trialed on humans. While there is no specific cure, most people will make a full recovery from the virus, even if they require hospital treatment.