MILLIONS have been warned to ”keep your distance” to stop the spread of coronavirus in Britain. Health chiefs claim that, at worst, the Covid-19 bug could kill 500,000 and infect 50million in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government has a plan to “contain and delay” the virus. But what is the reality? We answer the vital questions.
What are the symptoms I should be looking for?
Coughs, sneezes, fever and breathing difficulties, along with muscle pain, which can lead to pneumonia. In severe cases there can be organ failure. But most cases are mild and few lead to death.
Should I take antibiotics?
As this is a virus, antibiotics are no use. The antivirals we have against flu do not work. But if you haven’t had the flu jab yet, get it now to reduce the burden on the NHS if the outbreak here does turn into an epidemic. Recovery largely depends on the strength of the immune system. Rest at home, keep warm, eat properly, drink fluids and try to avoid passing it on.
Who is most at risk?
The elderly and people with existing long-term conditions such as cancer, diabetes, a bad heart or chronic lung disease. Fifteen per cent of people over the age of 80 who have caught the virus have died, while no child has.
One in ten with heart disease passed away. Although almost equal numbers of male and female patients have caught coronavirus, nearly 2.8 per cent of men died compared to 1.7 per cent of women. To put it in context, normal flu has a death rate below one per cent and Covid-19 is only a fraction higher.
I have been abroad in the past fortnight. Where are the countries of most concern?
There is particular concern about people who have returned in the past eight days from Iran or parts of South Korea. Even if you do not have any symptoms, call NHS 111 and avoid contact with other people.
If you have returned from lockdown areas of Veneto and Lombardy in Northern Italy, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar or Laos since February 19, and develop even the mildest symptoms stay at home, avoid contact with anyone and call NHS 111.
If you have returned from China, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Macau and have a cough, fever or shortness of breath, stay indoors and report it to NHS 111.
I’ve got a cough. Do I need to worry?
No. But if you have recently travelled from areas affected by the virus, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, just as you would with the flu, and call NHS 111 to tell them of your travels.
What is the test for Covid-19?
Doctors take samples from the nose, throat and windpipe. It takes 24 to 48 hours for the results to come back from 12 UK labs equipped with staff that can test more than 1,000 samples a day.
Some schools are closing. Are my children safe?
Yes. Growing numbers of schools are shutting or sending pupils home after half-term trips to Italy despite health authorities’ calls for them to stay open.
Public Health England said head- teachers should call them if considering closure. If a whole school shuts, it is likely the kids will mix elsewhere, which would defeat the point of the closure.
Will I get paid if I’m sent home from work because of the virus, if my child’s school closes or if I have to care for a relative?
It all depends on your employment contract, but if you would normally receive sick pay, then yes. Companies have discretion to offer extra paid time off too.
Will wearing a mask help?
Mostly not. As Covid-19 is new we still don’t know exactly how it spreads, but similar viruses spread by cough or sneeze droplets. Covid-19 travels in particles of around 0.1 microns in diameter but N95 masks, which are normally used for dust and smoke pollution, only block out particles as small as 0.3 microns.
Surgical masks from the High Street only screen out particles bigger than five microns wide.
Should I stop travelling on public transport, avoid crowds, sell my season ticket and stop going to gigs?
No. There is little evidence that this would have any significant effect on virus transmission and, in fact, large public gatherings are, according to the Government’s own advice, an important indicator of “normality” and help maintain public morale.
The best way to protect ourselves is to wash our hands frequently with soap and water as well as always carrying tissues and using them to catch coughs and sneezes before binning them.
Can I catch it from my dog or cat?
No. Household pets cannot catch Covid-19 nor transfer the virus to humans.
Will there be a vaccine?
One is anticipated within three to six months. Scientists are working on it 24/7.
The virus is now in Italy, Greece, Spain, Tenerife, Iran and South Korea. Should I hold off booking my summer holiday?
Travel insurance and package holiday tour operator protection will kick in should the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel or against travel to a certain country.
But this hasn’t yet happened for Italy, Greece, Spain or Tenerife, so it is a hard call to make at the moment. Only consider a package holiday with ATOL protection, as this will ensure that, should the worst happen, you will get the support of your tour operator if overseas, or a refund or rebooking if in the UK.
And get travel insurance the minute you book, and with a reliable firm. The more expensive the policy, the better the cover. Cheap policies will have many conditions attached.
If the worst happens and a pandemic is declared here what do we do?
Keep calm and try to carry on. The Government will encourage those who are well to carry on with their normal lives, while taking protective precautions. It is unlikely to close borders, stop mass gatherings or shut public transport.
How many people at work will be affected?
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Up to 50 per cent of the workforce may need time off, with 20 to 30 per cent of staff off on any given day. This will come from a combination of reasons including fear of infection, illness, the need to look after family members, school closures, transport difficulties and bereavement.
So will Britain grind to a halt?
Absolutely not. Energy firms can maintain supplies of gas and electricity at near normal levels even with low staff, while many key operations in water and sewerage are automated.
The shops will still have food and drink but choice may suffer and you may have to go further to find one open. Transport will work on emergency timetables. Postal services will be affected but access to benefits will be prioritised. Police, ambulance and fire services will prioritise the gravest emergencies.