Covid-19 is all anyone’s talking about – but what’s the truth behind the headlines? Stylist investigates.
Updated on Thursday 12 March: the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK reached 460, after the biggest rise in a single day.
It came as two more people with the Covid-19 virus died in the UK, bringing the total to eight.
Boris Johnson is set to stage another Cobra meeting today, to determine whether or not the UK should remain in the “containment” phase for the time being, or start taking measures to delay the spread of the virus using “social distancing”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, has said the peak of the UK outbreak was expected “in a matter of a couple of months.”
So, should we be worried?
Originally reported on Monday 9 March: As people continue to spread misinformation about the coronavirus (and frantically stockpile on toilet roll, pasta and other staples), Stylist takes a look at the truth behind the pandemic headlines.
Is coronavirus worse than the flu?
As it is a new virus, the general public has a lack of immunity to COVID-19 and it can spread quickly.
Dr Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com, tells us: “The symptoms of COVID-19 have the capacity to become much more severe, but they are similar to those of the flu. In terms of being worse, this is hard to know for certain as the virus is still very new and we’re still learning the impact of it.”
The Department of Health & Social Care adds: “So far the data we have suggests that the risk of severe disease and death increases among elderly people and in people with underlying health risk conditions, in the same way as for seasonal flu.”
However, Dr Bruce Aylward – the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s public health expert – recently travelled to China to learn more about the virus and the country’s response to the outbreak. Since then, he has warned the world is “simply not ready” for coronavirus.
“This is a rapidly escalating epidemic in different places that we’ve got to tackle super fast to prevent a pandemic,” Aylward says.
“The fatality rate of coronavirus has been estimated at 3.4%. If accurate, this would make coronavirus at least 10 times more deadly than the flu.”
What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?
The symptoms of coronavirus are:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- shortness of breath
Is handwashing actually effective against coronavirus?
It’s a resounding “yes” from experts all over the world. The best way to protect yourself against the coronavirus is to wash your hands with soap and warm water.
Atkinson says: “Handwashing is a very effective way to protect yourself from viruses and illnesses. Wash your hands thoroughly, for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitising gels are also useful to help protect you from illnesses.
“Try to avoid touching your face with your hands. Even if you were to touch a surface or a person experiencing COVID-19, you would only develop the disease if you transfer this to your mouth, nose or eyes.”
You can watch the NHS guide on “how to wash your hands” here.
How can I avoid catching or spreading coronavirus?
The NHS has advised that you:
- wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Where can I get tested for coronavirus?
Testing can take place at hospital, in a drive-thru facility or at home – but only if there’s a high chance you have the virus.
Remember: do not visit your GP or local hospital if you think you have coronavirus. Call NHS 111 and seek their advice first.
What does the coronavirus test entail?
If a health professional decides that you need to be tested, they will take some samples to test for coronavirus. This may include samples of:
- mucus from your nose, throat or lungs
- poo (stool sample).
“Once the sample has been taken, they will be sent off for testing and you will be informed of the outcome once the test has been completed,” says Atkinson. “This could take place on the same day. While you await the results of the test, you will need to self-isolate.”
How should I self-isolate if I think I might have the coronavirus?
If you have confirmed coronavirus, have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus, or have been to an area with a high-risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days, you will be asked to self-isolate.
You can use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do. Essentially, though, you should expect to stay at home for up to 14 days to avoid a possible spread of infection.
This means not going to work, not using public transport or taxis, and separating yourself from other people in your home. You will need to clean your toilets and bathrooms regularly, wash crockery and utensils thoroughly after use, and use a separate towel to others in the household.
You can find more advice on self-isolation here.
Do I need to stay away from my dog or cat if I have coronavirus?
The NHS advises that you do stay away from your pets if it’s likely you have coronavirus. If this is unavoidable, though, don’t fret: just make sure to wash your hands before and after contact.
But can my dog or cat give me coronavirus?
Everyone saw the reports about that one dog testing a “weak positive” for COVID-19. However, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has said there’s no need for pet owners to panic yet.
“There is currently no evidence that pet animals can be a source of infection of COVID-19 or that they can become sick,” the AFCD spokesman said.
To be safe, the AFCD recommends that pet owners wash their hands after being around their animals, and avoid kissing them.
What is the treatment for Coronavirus?
“As we’re still trying to get to grips with COVID-19 – how it has developed and spread – we’re still trying to best understand how it can be treated,” says Atkinson.
“Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been told to self-isolate, and you can take medication to alleviate the symptoms of the illness, such as paracetamol for the high temperature. Your body will fight the virus and the majority of people make a full recovery.”
Are the elderly/sick the only ones at risk of coronavirus?
Individuals at highest risk of coronavirus include those who meet any of the following conditions:
- People 60 years of age and older
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronic respiratory disease
- Heart, lung or kidney disease
- Those with weakened immune systems
- People with weakened respiratory system due to smoking/vaping
If you fall into any of the above categories, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says “it is especially important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of exposure”.
If I’m not considered a high risk, do I need to worry about the coronavirus?
“Viruses have the capacity to spread rapidly and affect most people,” says Atkinson.
“For younger and healthier people, the likelihood of overcoming and recovering from the illness is much higher. The advice for younger people, should they become infected, will be the same – you’ll still need to self-isolate.”
And please remember that, while the virus is more dangerous to the sick and elderly, we all have a responsibility to protect one another.
As the NHS puts it: “People of all ages should follow simple measures to stop viruses like coronavirus spreading, for example by washing their hands often with soap and water.”
Does coronavirus mean we should we avoid cinemas/trains/crowded places?
As stated by the NHS, you only need to stay away from public places if advised to by the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional. Life can otherwise continue on as normal – just be mindful of your hygiene within these surroundings.
Or, as Atkinson advises, “just don’t touch your face, eyes and nose with unclean hands.”
Can I get coronavirus from food or takeaways?
There’s no evidence to suggest that’s the case, so feel free to dial in that pizza (just make sure it’s a decent hygiene rating – and, when preparing any meals yourself, make sure to clean your hands thoroughly before handling food).
Do you need to be with an infected person for 10 minutes to get coronavirus?
The NHS defines “close contact with someone with a confirmed case of coronavirus” as the following:
- living in the same house
- contact with their body fluids
- face-to-face contact, for example talking for more than a few minutes
- being coughed on
- being within 2 metres of the person for more than 15 minutes
Atkinson adds: “It is yet to be determined how long you would need to spend with one person in order to contract the virus. If you are in close contact with someone experiencing COVID-19, you should follow the appropriate advice in order to protect yourself.”
How can you spot the difference between normal cold/flu and the coronavirus?
As the symptoms are so closely linked, it may be difficult to differentiate between the cold and coronavirus.
“What we know so far is that a high temperature is the first sign of the virus, then a dry cough and the shortness of breath comes after this,” says Atkinson. “If you’re concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing, make a note of them and get in touch with the NHS.”
How deadly is the coronavirus?
The most recent death rate estimate from WHO is 3.4%.
However, experts have repeatedly reminded us that “it’s clear that many who have died from the virus have had underlying health conditions or have been older and more vulnerable.”
Will a coronavirus vaccine become available soon?
There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus (COVID-19). The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine.
“It is difficult to determine how quickly a vaccine will be available, and how readily available it will be across the world,” says Atkinson. “Vaccines can take a number of years to be developed and go to market.”
However, the NHS reminds us that “simple hygiene measures like washing your hands with soap and water often, and avoiding people who are unwell, can help stop viruses like coronavirus spreading.”
You can read about the coronavirus vaccine’s progress here.
If you get coronavirus once, are you then immune (as with chickenpox)?
At this moment, it’s hard to say whether you will be immune to COVID-19 if you have fully recovered from it.
“As we gather more information surrounding the virus and its capabilities, this should become clearer,” says Atkinson.
Should I be stockpiling ahead of the coronavirus?
Public Health England has urged members of the public to “plan ahead” in case they had to self-isolate for a couple of weeks. However, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said there is “absolutely no reason” for the British public to panic-buy.
Is coronavirus man-made?
The origin of COVID-19 has been heavily discussed, but don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Scientists in both China and the West have widely dismissed theories that the coronavirus is the result of a leaked bioweapon. Experts are still trying to figure out the exact source of the virus, but research indicates that it likely originated in bats and was transmitted to an intermediate host before jumping to people.
“It is believed that the virus jumped the species barrier to humans from another intermediate animal host. This intermediate animal host could be a domestic food animal, a wild animal, or a domesticated wild animal which has not yet been identified,” the WHO has said.
Can home remedies cure/prevent the coronavirus?
Yes, garlic, vitamin C and water are all good for you – but any suggestion that home remedies can be used to cure or prevent COVID-19 are unfounded.
The NHS adds: “There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with salt water (saline) protects you from coronavirus.”
So what can we do? Well, to be safe, you should follow the given advice from the appropriate professionals like WHO: wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue that you throw away immediately after, and disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch.
Does wearing a mask protect me from coronavirus?
There is little evidence to suggest that wearing a mask will protect you from picking up viruses. It can, however, stop you from spreading germs to others.
Atkinson tells us: “If you are experiencing symptoms related to the Coronavirus, it can be worthwhile wearing a mask to try to control the spread of germs. It can also be useful if you’re caring for someone with the virus.
“The mask should cover your nose and mouth adequately – so it should reach to your chin – and you should touch it as infrequently as you can.”
Does heat kill the coronavirus?
WHO says we don’t know yet how heat and humidity affect the virus.
“There is currently no data available on stability of 2019-nCoV on surfaces,” it says in its guidance on preventing infections.
Will warm weather kill the coronavirus?
Some political leaders, including US president Donald Trump, have suggested that coronavirus will come to an end as winter fades into spring. But is this actually the case?
Researcher Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia told New Scientist: “One extreme scenario is that it will burn itself out sometime in the summer. The other extreme scenario is that it will reduce in the summer but it will come back again in the winter and become what we call endemic, in that it will spread pretty much everywhere.”
David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the global response to the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003, added: “These viruses can certainly spread during high temperature seasons.”
Can coronavirus be transmitted through mail/the post?
“We cannot say for certain that the virus cannot be spread on surfaces such as postal letters, but it is unlikely that this is the case,” says Atkinson.
Remember: experts have suggested that the virus can only survive for up to four days on surfaces.
If a pandemic is declared, is there anything more we can do to stop the spread of coronavirus?
Of course there is: we can all continue to take responsibility for ourselves and ensure that we are washing our hands, self-isolating when sick, and doing everything we can to avoid spreading the virus further.
Atkinson adds: “In the scenario that a pandemic is declared, it is likely we will have much more information surrounding the virus at our disposal, including the best course of action to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Until then, we should remain vigilant in hygiene to best protect ourselves.”
How are the NHS coping with the coronavirus?
“The NHS have well-rehearsed plans that have enabled the provision of excellent care for all patients affected by this disease,” reads an official statement from the Department of Health & Social Care.
“The initial confirmed patients are being cared for by specialist units with expertise in handling such cases, using tried-and-tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus. When necessary, the provision of care may move from specialist units into general facilities in hospitals.”
Atkinson adds: “With only a small number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the UK, there should not be a significant additional strain on the NHS.”
Should schools/public events be cancelled due to coronavirus?
A number of major events have been cancelled in the wake of the COVID-19’s rapid spread. It is understandable that this approach has been taken to avoid a continuing major spread and to protect those who have not been affected.
For smaller events, such as school events, it’s unlikely that this precaution needs to be taken. And remember: the government is monitoring the situation, and will ensure they are making all the best decisions to prioritise the public’s safety.
Is the coronavirus an emergency?
On 30 January 2020, WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”.
However, Atkinson reassures us by adding: “At present this situation looks like it is extremely serious. Saying that it is an ‘emergency’, however, would imply that we all ought to be taking radical action to avert disaster.
“In reality what we have to do is be more careful with our hygiene – which, while a very simple thing to do, is likely to be the one thing that makes the most difference to the way that the situation progresses.”
If you think you might have coronavirus, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do.
Images: Unsplash/CDC/Hello I’m Nik/Getty/Berkay Gumustekin