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Boris Johnson: Coronavirus could escalate in UK within DAYS

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Boris Johnson today set the stage for sweeping measures to combat a major UK coronavirus outbreak – with Britons facing European-style curbs on their movement and leisure activities to avoid thousands of deaths.

The government is bracing Britons for the virus to spread further and faster after the number of cases in this country hit 40, up four since yesterday.  

The PM finally waded in to take personal charge of the response by chairing a Cobra emergency committee meeting this morning. 

The session agreed a new ‘battle plan’, which will be officially published tomorrow. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed this afternoon that the UK might need to copy the measures taken by other European states ‘at more advanced stages of an outbreak’.

That could mean a French-style ban on crowds, cancelling sporting events, fines for entering restricted areas as in Italy, encouraging vulnerable over-60s to stay at home, and advising against physical contact during greetings. 

Writing in the Evening Standard, Mr Hancock also highlighted the government’s ability to detain people who refused to go into quarantine.

Retired doctors and nurses could be asked to return to the NHS, people could be urged to work from home, and schools closed. 

Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control the virus is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month. 

There is also mounting speculation that the Budget will need to be radically reworked, as the international crisis triggers a slowdown in growth and the huge health effort stretches NHS capacity. 

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon highlighted the ‘reasonable worst case’ figure that 80 per cent of the population could get coronavirus – although she stressed that most would not end up seriously ill. 

Experts have suggested around 4 per cent of those could require hospital treatment, which would be equivalent to more than two million people UK-wide.  

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

icola Sturgeon (left at a press conference in Edinburgh today) dialled into the Cobra meeting earlier. She said 'we are in the containment phase' but the Scottish government was preparing for a 'significant outbreak of coronavirus'

icola Sturgeon (left at a press conference in Edinburgh today) dialled into the Cobra meeting earlier. She said 'we are in the containment phase' but the Scottish government was preparing for a 'significant outbreak of coronavirus'

icola Sturgeon (left at a press conference in Edinburgh today) dialled into the Cobra meeting earlier. She said ‘we are in the containment phase’ but the Scottish government was preparing for a ‘significant outbreak of coronavirus’

OECD fears worst financial crisis for a decade after coronavirus outbreak

The OECD today said it feared the worst financial crisis for a decade as the Bank of England vowed to take ‘all necessary steps’ to protect Britain’s economy from the impact of coronavirus. 

The trade body warned the world’s economy could shrink in the first quarter of this year as a result of the outbreak, with growth across the whole year dipping as low as 1.5% if the virus lasts long and spreads widely.  

It came as the FTSE teetered at 0.64 percent up on 6,621 after shedding its earlier gains. 

The blue-chip index gained more than 2.5% to reach 6758 at opening, with oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell becoming the largest risers after adding 4% each. 

By 12.30am, it had dropped to -0.7% after early gains lessened through the morning, before gaining again to reach growth of 0.64% at 3.30pm.  

Investors now expect central banks around the world to launch a coordinated effort to cut interest rates and shore up growth as part of a monetary stimulus package.

This morning, the Bank of England raised investors’ hopes by vowing to take ‘all necessary steps’ to boost the economy. 

In another rollercoaster day of developments in the coronavirus crisis: 

  • Four more cases have been announced in England – although the figure is well below the 12 declared yesterday. All of the patients caught the virus in Italy, which is suffering the biggest outbreak of coronavirus in Europe.
  • There are fears for scores of cancer patients at an NHS hospital in Hertfordshire after a clinician was revealed to have caught the deadly virus.
  • The Bank of England said it is looking at all available options for responding to potential economic turmoil. 
  • The EU has raised its coronavirus risk level from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’
  • The London stock exchange lost its early momentum and tumbled 0.7 per cent to 6,533
  • Online supermarket Ocado is running out of stock because Britons are stockpiling items amid fears of a full-blown outbreak 
  • Donald Trump revealed plans to screen everyone from high-risk coronavirus countries both prior to leaving the country and when arriving in the US – after America recorded its second death 
  • Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel – may be called off due to the outbreak 
  • British guests at a quarantined hotel in Tenerife are being flown back to the UK after testing negative for coronavirus, Jet2holidays has confirmed 
  • The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – the British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran – says his wife is showing ‘all the symptoms’ of the illness but is yet to be tested 
  • Angela Merkel was refused when she went to shake the hands of Germany’s interior minister at a business event in her constituency amid fears of the virus spreading in the workplace 

Mr Johnson has faced heavy criticism for dragging his heels before chairing a meeting on the deadly virus. 

And speaking after Cobra today he said: ‘We have agreed a plan so that as and when if and when it starts to spread… we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary… to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can and also protect the vulnerable.’

He added: ‘Don’t forget it is still the case that the single most useful thing we can all do is to wash our hands – two times Happy Birthday, hot water and soap.

‘Other than that though I wish to stress that people consider that they should, as far as possible, go about business as usual.’  

Mr Johnson said coronavirus was ‘likely to become more significant for this country in the course of the next days and weeks’.

But he also insisted that the public should try to go about ‘business as usual’, suggesting they wash their hands frequently while singing Happy Birthday twice. 

‘We have been making every preparation for that. This country is very well prepared,’ he said. 

Scotland has declared its first case, and 12 new patients were diagnosed in England yesterday, when the Health Secretary admitted it was ‘inevitable’ coronavirus would continue to spread.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said today that four further patients had tested positive.

‘All four patients had recently travelled from Italy. The patients are from Hertfordshire, Devon and Kent. All are being investigated and contact tracing has begun.’ 

After the diagnosis in Hertfordshire, More than a dozen patients at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood are being tested for the killer virus and at least 10 staff members have been forced to self-isolate while they wait to hear if they are infected. 

A man was spotted wearing a gas mask at Milton Keynes Central train station at around 8am this morning as 40 patients were diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK

A man was spotted wearing a gas mask at Milton Keynes Central train station at around 8am this morning as 40 patients were diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK

A man was spotted wearing a gas mask at Milton Keynes Central train station at around 8am this morning as 40 patients were diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK

Speaking after the Cobra meeting today, Boris Johnson said coronavirus was ‘likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks’

Speaking after the Cobra meeting today, Boris Johnson said coronavirus was ‘likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks’

Speaking after the Cobra meeting today, Boris Johnson said coronavirus was ‘likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks’

A healthcare worker at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Hertfordshire is one of the 13 latest coronavirus cases in the UK, it emerged this morning

The clinician is believed to have also contracted the illness on holiday in Italy before flying back to the UK last week and returning to work.

Elderly people and those with chronic conditions such as cancer are most at risk of suffering life-threatening complications of the highly contagious illness because of their weakened immune systems.

But NHS officials claim the risk of vulnerable patients contracting the virus was ‘very low’ because the infected health worker did not come into contact with them after falling ill, despite the fact the bug can spread before hosts show symptoms and survive on inanimate objects for hours.

PM tells Britons: Wash your hands while singing Happy Birthday and carry on as usual 

Boris Johnson said today that coronavirus is ‘likely to become more significant over the next days and weeks’. 

But he also insisted that the public should try to go about ‘business as usual’ – remembering to wash their hands frequently while singing Happy Birthday twice. 

‘We have been making every preparation for that. This country is very well prepared,’ he said.

‘We have also agreed a plan so that as and when if and when it starts to spread… we are in a position to take the steps that will be necessary… to contain the spread of the disease as far as we can and also protect the vulnerable.’

He added: ‘Don’t forget it is still the case that the single most useful thing we can all do is to wash our hands – two times Happy Birthday, hot water and soap.

‘Other than that though I wish to stress that people consider that they should, as far as possible, go about business as usual.’ 

Today’s coronavirus case in Devon sparked the closure of a batch of schools in the county. Churston Ferrers Grammar School in Torbay shut its doors after receiving a warning form PHE about a potential case.

The announcement was followed by closures of Collaton St Mary in Paignton, Galmpton Primary School in Brixham, Berry Pomeroy Primary School in Totnes and Brixham Church of England Primary School and Pre-School, DevonLive reported.

Meanwhile a special needs school in Farnham, Surrey, also shut today for a deep clean after a member of staff was exposed to a coronavirus patient. The Ridgeway School said it had taken the precautionary measure despite the staffer showing ‘no symptoms’ because it was concerned about many of its pupils with compromised immune systems, SurreyLive reported.

Ms Sturgeon, who dialled into the Cobra meeting today, said ‘we are in the containment phase’ but the Scottish government was preparing for a ‘significant outbreak of coronavirus’.

‘Whatever figures we end up dealing with, whether it’s 80 per cent of something – which is entirely possible much lower than that – the vast majority of people who get this infection will have very mild symptoms, akin to the common cold,’ she said.  

She added the Scotland v France Six Nations game is still scheduled to take place in Edinburgh this weekend and there has been no change to plans for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later in the year.  

The Bank of England is working with international partners and the Treasury to ensure ‘all necessary steps are taken’ to offset the economic hit from coronavirus.

No10 said Chancellor Mr Sunak had been in discussions with the Bank over the situation, but stressed the Budget will go ahead on March 11.

It comes as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU had raised its coronavirus risk level from ‘moderate’ to ‘high’ for those in the European Union.

Professor Paul Cosford, emeritus medical director of Public Health England, said the situation in the UK was set to become more challenging. 

Asked on BBC Breakfast if widespread infection was inevitable, Prof Cosford said: ‘I wouldn’t say anything is inevitable but it is now highly likely.’

Going on to speak on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Prof Cosford explained that ‘the extent of infection we are seeing in other countries suggests it is likely that we will see more widespread infection in the UK’.

He said: ‘We should expect at times that might be quite challenging for us, it is therefore very important that we do everything we can to reduce the spread of infection.

‘At the moment, the vast majority of cases we see in the UK are still linked to countries where there is more widespread infection, either in Italy or South East Asia.

‘It is true to say there is a small number now where it is much more difficult to find that link, and that is leading us to think we may well see more widespread infection in the UK fairly soon.

Sturgeon warns 80 per cent of public could get coronavirus in ‘significant outbreak’ 

Nicola Sturgeon has warned the government is preparing for 80 per cent of the population to contract coronavirus.

Some 4 per cent of those – around 200,000 people north of the border and two million UK-wide – might need to be hospitalised. 

The Scottish First Minister, who dialled into the Cobra meeting today, said ‘we are in the containment phase’ but they were ready for a ‘significant outbreak of coronavirus’.

She repeated the ‘reasonable worst case’ figure that 80 per cent of the population could get coronavirus, although she stressed that most would not end up seriously ill.

‘Whatever figures we end up dealing with, whether it’s 80 per cent of something – which is entirely possible much lower than that – the vast majority of people who get this infection will have very mild symptoms, akin to the common cold,’ she said.  

She added the Scotland v France Six Nations game is still scheduled to take place in Edinburgh this weekend and there has been no change to plans for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later in the year.  

‘It could happen in the next few days or it could take a little longer.’ 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The UK-wide action plan in response to Coronavirus was agreed and that will be published tomorrow.

‘That was agreed by all four parts of the UK and they will be working closely together, ensuring we have the best possibly response to the outbreak.’

The plan will ‘set out the steps we have already taken, things we could potentially consider in the event this outbreak were to progress further in the UK and also to set out the steps the public can take to contain the virus’. 

The meeting was attended by senior ministers, as well as chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, as they ratify the Government’s proposed countermeasures.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dialed in, as well as Mark Drakesford from Wales and Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neil from Northern Ireland. 

However, London mayor Sadiq Khan was not involved because it was to discuss a ‘national response’. 

It is understood the government wants emergency powers legislation in place by the end of the month, in case they are needed.  

Three of the latest cases are family members of a man from Surrey who tested positive on Friday. He had no recent travel history and is the first person to contract Covid-19 within the UK.

All four are adults, including one more from Surrey and two from West Sussex.

Prof Whitty said another new patient, from Essex, had not recently travelled to an infected area.

He added investigations were ongoing as to whether the patient had contracted it ‘directly or indirectly’ from someone who had recently travelled abroad.

Another case is a person from Bury, Greater Manchester, who was infected in Italy and has now been taken to a specialist NHS infection centre.

Three cases were confirmed in West Yorkshire, including two Leeds residents – who became infected in Iran – while one is from Bradford who had been in Italy.

Two of the new patients are from Hertfordshire, including a clinician at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, which is part of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust.

A statement from the trust said: ‘All individuals who were in contact with the clinician have been identified and the appropriate measures taken.

‘The risk to patients and staff at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is very low and we are working with individual patients to appropriately manage their care.’

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and No10 aide Dominic Cummings (right) were also in Downing Street today for the meeting

Mr Hancock (centre) arrived today accompanied by Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right)

Mr Hancock (centre) arrived today accompanied by Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right)

Mr Hancock (centre) arrived today accompanied by Department of Health permanent secretary Chris Wormald (left) and Professor Chris Whitty (right) 

One other case is from London and the other is from Gloucestershire and linked to a member of staff at a Tetbury school in the Cotswolds, who was identified on Saturday.

Debra Lapthorne, centre director for Public Health England (PHE) South West, said: ‘The two cases are linked and both became infected whilst in Northern Italy.

‘Staff from PHE have continued to support St Mary’s Primary School, Tetbury, where one of the cases works.’

In a letter to parents, headteacher Mrs Jo Woolley said that while it was not necessary to close the school from a health perspective, it will close until at least Wednesday due to ‘operational difficulties’ with staff members.

A staff member at an infant school in Berkshire was confirmed to have tested positive on Saturday.

In an email, Willow Bank Infant School headteacher Michelle Masters urged parents to ‘remain calm and follow the recommended hygiene procedures’.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced yesterday that every department will have a ministerial lead on the virus, and a cross-Whitehall ‘war room’ is being set up to roll out an enhanced public information campaign.

Emergency powers designed to restrict Covid-19 if it becomes endemic, due to be announced this week, would only be ‘temporary’, said Mr Hancock.

He confirmed that ‘population distancing measures’, such as banning public gatherings and cancelling football matches, could be considered by the Government, while closing schools may be ‘necessary’.

The Foreign Office confirmed that non-essential staff, as well as dependants, are to be pulled out of the British Embassy in Tehran.

The Republic of Ireland reported its first case on Saturday, with a secondary school to be closed for 14 days after authorities identified its pupils and teachers as having been in contact with the male patient.

Globally, the number of people killed worldwide by the virus exceeds 3,000 and there have been almost 90,000 confirmed cases.

While most patients only have mild symptoms, Covid-19 appears to be much more deadly than seasonal flu.

In Italy, which has the most cases in Europe, the number of infections doubled in 48 hours over the weekend.

Italy now has 1,694 confirmed cases and has seen 34 deaths.

Coronavirus explained: What are the chances I will die? How do I avoid it? Is it all a big fuss over nothing? World experts answer your questions 

Hundreds of flights have been cancelled. Tourists are stranded, quarantined in their hotels. World stock markets are in freefall, and there are reports of desperate shoppers stockpiling crates of supplies – from nappies to medicines to toilet roll.

Sales of surgical spirit have surged and Boots announced it has sold out of anti-bacterial hand gel. There’s even talk of cancelling – not just postponing – the Olympics.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of impending doom when reading about the coronavirus infection, known as Covid-19, sweeping the globe. At the time of writing, it has killed more than 2,900 and infected in excess of 85,000 people in 47 countries.

A woman pictured with a medical mask covering her face. The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others (file photo)

A woman pictured with a medical mask covering her face. The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others (file photo)

A woman pictured with a medical mask covering her face. The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others (file photo)

The majority of infections and deaths are in the Hubei province of China, where the virus emerged. But in Italy, nearly 5,000 miles from the source, cases have surged, forcing some northern towns – home to 55,000 people – into lockdown.

Twelve Italians have died so far, and on Friday the first British fatality, a passenger aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner quarantined in Japan, was reported.

In the UK, of the nearly 8,000 who have been tested for the virus, 20 have been diagnosed, and there have been no deaths.

Plans are in place to close schools, disrupt our public transport system and postpone major sports events should the situation change. But for now, experts are urging the public to prepare and take measures to help prevent the spread of illness.

The world wants to know what to do about it and so – from risks to the elderly or ill and how to self-quarantine, to what ordinary people can do to protect themselves – we asked some of the world’s leading experts for answers to the big coronavirus questions.

How do you catch this virus?

Covid-19 seems to spread much like flu, through coughs and sneezes. Once contracted, it lives and replicates in the tissues that line the airways. Secretions from these tissues – mucus and saliva – therefore also contain the virus. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or simply talks, tiny droplets of moisture are expelled into the air, carrying the virus out of the body. Unless you are directly in the firing line, you should be safe. Droplets travel only up to 7ft.

Struggling: Pope Francis wipes his nose as he takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, on February 26. He said yesterday he was only suffering from a cold

Struggling: Pope Francis wipes his nose as he takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, on February 26. He said yesterday he was only suffering from a cold

Struggling: Pope Francis wipes his nose as he takes part in the penitential procession on Ash Wednesday in Rome, Italy, on February 26. He said yesterday he was only suffering from a cold

But another risk comes when people cover their cough or sneeze with their hand and then touch something other people touch, such as a door knob or tap. Touch a contaminated surface, then touch your own mouth or nose, and the virus can be transmitted.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days.

Günter Kampf of the University of Greifswald in Germany says such viruses can be killed by disinfectants such as alcohol or bleach – but many things we touch every day on transport or in public buildings are not frequently disinfected.

If 14 per cent of those infected develop a severe disease and five per cent of them are critically ill, it could be a ‘massive threat’ according to an interview Dr Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, gave The Times

‘It doesn’t present like a common cold and the symptoms can range from completely unapparent to serious disease to going into intensive care. 

‘From what we have learnt so far, it seems that virus shedding – the transmission stage from infected persons – is going on relatively early during the course of infection.

‘Tests can quite often become negative but then sometimes go positive again,’ he said.

According to Alistair Miles, head of epidemiological informatics, Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, we should stop touching our faces. 

He told The Times: ‘Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. 

‘Wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching food. 

‘While a mask seems like a good idea, there isn’t a lot of good evidence that it can reliably prevent infection when worn by the public. But they are useful to put on a sick person to reduce their spreading of the virus.’  

He said: ‘It looks unlikely this will be over quickly. It may be with us into next year and might eventually become a seasonal infection, returning each winter.’ 

Could I die if I get it?

It depends to some extent on how old you are. Covid-19 barely even causes symptoms in children, even babies, and in China is not known to have caused any deaths in under-tens. The main concern with children is that if they catch the virus they may pass it on to older at-risk individuals. This is why some headteachers have chosen to close schools, but this is not yet official policy.

According to the most recent data from the China Centre for Disease Control, death rates are 0.2 to 0.4 per cent between the ages of ten and 50, but then start climbing.

Deep cleaning: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a tram car in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26. Symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a cough or trouble breathing

Deep cleaning: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a tram car in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26. Symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a cough or trouble breathing

Deep cleaning: A worker in a protective suit disinfects a tram car in Pyongyang, North Korea, on February 26. Symptoms of Covid-19 are a fever, a cough or trouble breathing 

You have a 1.3 per cent chance of dying from it in your 50s, a 3.6 per cent risk in your 60s, an eight per cent risk in your 70s, and a 14.8 per cent risk in your 80s.

Risk climbs with age because older people more often have other diseases, such as cancer or conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or pulmonary disease, which worsen Covid-19.

Professor Neil Ferguson, on the faculty of medicine at Imperial College London, told The Times: ‘China seems to be suppressing transmission at the moment. In Italy we think there are many thousands of cases distributed across the country. In Iran there are tens of thousands, if not more. 

‘We calculated with an enormous amount of uncertainty that one per cent of those infected might die – with a fourfold margin of error in each direction. So a death rate of 0.25 per cent of cases would be similar to the 1957 and 1968 influenza pandemics while a four per cent rate would compare with the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic (with a death toll estimated at 40 million to 50 million).  

I have a horrible cold – could it be coronavirus?

Symptoms of Covid-19 are not like those of a cold: it causes a fever, a cough and trouble breathing, not a runny nose or congestion. Most cases appear to be mild.

If it’s mild, could I have the virus and not know it?

The short answer is yes. Although at present only those who have been in contact with people known to be infected or who have been to a high-risk area (a full list of these locations comes later) should ask about being tested.

Expert warnings about bats ignored for years

This kind of virus was, until recently, found only in East Asian bats – and it doesn’t harm them.

The virus is thought to have got to humans via bats sold in Chinese markets for food or traditional medicine, or via some other species also sold in the markets. Chinese scientists and some foreign colleagues have been warning for years that these bats were a risk.

The first human cases were in December, in people with links to a wildlife market in the city of Wuhan: many worked there. After an initial attempt by local officials to hush up the outbreak, China launched a massive effort to contain the virus, shutting down Wuhan, which is bigger than London.

In the Hubei province, where Wuhan is, case numbers now seem to be falling.

But in a globalised economy with close trade and travel links, it was impossible to stop the virus getting out.

It takes from two to 14 days after being infected by the virus to show symptoms – the average is five days. Chinese scientists say 80 per cent of all cases are quite mild. Some victims have barely any symptoms at all, so if you get sick you might not realise it’s Covid-19.

Worryingly, it seems to be possible for people to spread it before they start showing symptoms – or even if they never do. Scientists at the Guangdong Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in China found one Covid-19 patient who showed no symptoms but had as much virus in his nose as people who had symptoms.

In Germany, a woman with very mild symptoms – not enough to make her or anyone else suspicious – passed the virus to two people who shared a meeting room with her, who then passed it to two more people before they got symptoms.

During the 2002 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, it was discovered that people were infectious – with a high enough concentration of the virus in their fluids – only after they developed symptoms.

This meant that isolating patients, to stop it spreading, was more straightforward. This time, ‘if people are infectious and spreading the virus before symptoms, then containment becomes much more difficult,’ warns Caroline Buckee of Harvard Medical School in the US.

There have been these outbreaks before, like SARS, and we got through it. Do we really need to worry now?

Experts have urged the public not to panic – however, people are being advised to stay informed.

SARS infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in 29 countries in less than a year.

It went away because it spread poorly among people, and only after symptoms started.

Safe: Airport staff check the temperature of a passenger travelling from Milan, Italy, as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at the Debrecen airport in Hungary

Safe: Airport staff check the temperature of a passenger travelling from Milan, Italy, as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at the Debrecen airport in Hungary

Safe: Airport staff check the temperature of a passenger travelling from Milan, Italy, as part of the coronavirus screening procedure at the Debrecen airport in Hungary

There was also a massive global campaign, led by the WHO, to isolate people who had been exposed.

‘It took a lot of hard work,’ says David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led that campaign at the WHO. ‘And we were lucky.’

SARS never invaded any developing countries which might have had trouble organising the surveillance and isolation required.

This coronavirus spreads more readily, and has already infected more than ten times as many people, on all continents.

But really, don’t more people die each year from falling down stairs than will be killed by coronavirus?

More people do die in a year falling on stairs in the UK – 787 last year – than die of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which killed 428. Few would argue that HIV is trivial, or not something to avoid.

At present, it is believed that one per cent of Covid-19 cases die. But this makes it as deadly as the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu – one of the worst pandemics known, thought to have killed up to 50million worldwide.

Should I wear a mask in public?

No. Studies show they do not really protect you from being infected. Some think it makes you touch your face less, but others report it makes you do it more.

The only reason to wear a mask in public is if you think you are infected – to protect others.

No risks: Commuters on a train in Milan, Italy, cover up completely. But studies show that wearing a face mask does not really protect you from being infected

No risks: Commuters on a train in Milan, Italy, cover up completely. But studies show that wearing a face mask does not really protect you from being infected

No risks: Commuters on a train in Milan, Italy, cover up completely. But studies show that wearing a face mask does not really protect you from being infected

And, regardless, those who suspect they are infected are advised to stay at home and self-isolate (more on this later).

Current advice from Public Health England is to wear one at home if you are caring for a sick person – and if you get sick, to stop you infecting others. The NHS may give you some if they tell you to self-quarantine.

But don’t buy large quantities of masks. There is a global shortage and the close-fitting ‘respirator’ style ones, like N95 or FP2, which are similar to those worn by builders to protect them from toxic fumes, should be saved for the healthcare workers who will really need them.

I think I’ve been exposed, but I feel fine. What should I do?

Do not go to a clinic or the doctor’s without calling first. If you have the virus, you could infect more vulnerable people.

The current official advice is this: if you have visited Hubei province in China in the past 14 days, or Iran, northern Italy and the Daegu and Cheongdo areas of South Korea since February 19, call NHS 111 – even if you do not have symptoms.

You may well be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

If there is a risk that you may be infected, other family members or close contacts may also need to be contacted and questioned.

Stuck indoors: A guest wears a protective face mask as he stands by an open window at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown over cases of cornoavirus, in Tenerife, Spain

Stuck indoors: A guest wears a protective face mask as he stands by an open window at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown over cases of cornoavirus, in Tenerife, Spain

Stuck indoors: A guest wears a protective face mask as he stands by an open window at H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown over cases of cornoavirus, in Tenerife, Spain

You should also contact the NHS on 111 if you have a cough, high temperature or are suffering shortness of breath and have been to other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the past 14 days, or other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since February 19.

You should call the helpline if you think you may have been in close contact with someone who is infected. Even if you’ve been to a high-risk area, from what we know so far, if you don’t develop symptoms in 14 days, you don’t have the virus.

This list may change, and the latest advice for England and Wales is on gov.uk.

How do I isolate myself?

Public Health England says stay home for 14 days.

It means not going to work or school – employers and school heads should be informed.

Do not go to public areas such as parks or shops and public transport or use taxis. Avoid having visitors, and ask friends, family or delivery services to get the shopping – and put it down outside, where you can pick it up. 

Sweaty: Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi wipes the swear off his face during a press conference in Tehran, before he confirmed being tested positive for coronavirus

Sweaty: Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi wipes the swear off his face during a press conference in Tehran, before he confirmed being tested positive for coronavirus

Sweaty: Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi wipes the swear off his face during a press conference in Tehran, before he confirmed being tested positive for coronavirus 

If you share a home with others, and they have not been advised to self-isolate, then stay in a separate, well-ventilated room.

If you share a bathroom, use it after other people, use separate towels – and then clean it.

If you share a kitchen, try not to use it when others do, eat in your room and wear a mask if others are there. Stopping you from infecting others is the one thing a surgical mask is good for. Public Health England advise that if a family returns from somewhere that requires quarantine when they get back, they can stay together and don’t have to be in separate rooms.

Isn’t staying home for two weeks a bit extreme?

Self-isolation for two weeks may be an unpleasant prospect. But it is absolutely vital, aimed at stopping the virus from getting loose and circulating generally, whereupon there will be far more cases, and it will be harder to protect the vulnerable, such as the elderly.

Dirty money: A bank clerk disinfects banknotes in the quarters of Suining Bank. China's central bank has ordered to disinfect cash and destroy cash received from hospitals

Dirty money: A bank clerk disinfects banknotes in the quarters of Suining Bank. China's central bank has ordered to disinfect cash and destroy cash received from hospitals

Dirty money: A bank clerk disinfects banknotes in the quarters of Suining Bank. China’s central bank has ordered to disinfect cash and destroy cash received from hospitals 

Officials may also try to slow the spread of the virus by cancelling large gatherings and perhaps shutting down schools or transport.

Apparently people with flu symptoms in some areas of the UK are being tested now. Why?

Covid-19 is diagnosed by looking for the virus in samples taken from the nose or mouth. The UK has mostly tested people with risky travel or contact history.

But Public Health England is now working with some hospitals and GP surgeries to test other patients, to see if the virus has already spread more widely.

It’s not snake flu, so what do we call it?

Coronavirus seems to be what most people are calling the infection. But it’s not quite right – that’s the name of the family of viruses this thing belongs to.

When looked at under a high-powered microscope, the virus is round with knobs on the outside that make it look like a little crown, hence ‘corona’. You’ve probably had one already: two coronaviruses cause common colds in people.

Another coronavirus caused the disease SARS, which first emerged in 2002 in China, then died out within a few years.

The official name for this infection is Covid-19, invented in February by the World Health Organisation from COrona VIrus Disease, and 2019, the year it emerged.

At the same time the virus itself was named SARS-CoV-2 by a team of 17 virologists from six countries, who say it is actually the same species as the SARS virus.

But a few small genetic differences mean it spreads much more readily among people than SARS did – which is why we haven’t been able to stop it as we did SARS.

Fortunately, it is also only about a tenth as deadly as SARS. Some early reports called the virus ‘snake flu’ – a reference to early theories that it crossed into humans from snakes eaten as food.

But it’s not flu, and the snake theory was quickly debunked.

In eight hospitals, patients in intensive care with severe respiratory infections will be tested.

In 100 GP surgeries, those coming in with milder flu-like symptoms – dry coughs, fever, shortness of breath – will be tested. As of Saturday, two cases had been found.

What can I do to protect myself, and my family, if the virus starts spreading in the UK?

‘Think through how you will look after infected family members while avoiding infection yourself,’ says risk expert Peter Sandman.

‘Maybe get some plastic gloves in the case of caring for someone who is sick – perhaps a few disposable surgical masks to wear, for the same reason. Plan what to do for childcare if you or they are sick,’ he advises.

Possibilities include making arrangements with neighbours or family to care for each other’s children if one or the other is sick – or see whether there are any emergency arrangements being organised in your community.

When you are in public places, wash your hands often with soap, or at least alcohol-based hand cleaner, in case you’ve picked up the virus from some surface.

If you must touch a public surface, don’t touch your face afterwards until you’ve washed.

You can wear gloves, but don’t touch your face with those without taking them off first.

Use a knuckle to push elevator buttons and a tissue to open doors and hold railings. Substitute an elbow bump for a handshake.

Practise not touching your face when you are out in public, says Sandman. It’s hard, he admits, but not a bad skill to acquire.

Sneeze or cough into a tissue (then bin it), or your elbow – as the old saying goes, it’s coughs and sneezes that spread diseases.

I’ve read that there’s no vaccine for this virus. Will a flu jab protect me?

Scientists are racing to come up with a vaccine or an antiviral drug for Covid-19, and some are now being tested, in record time.

But there is currently no specific treatment, as it is an entirely new virus. Realistically, it’s not going to be available until next year.

A sunbather wears a face mask in the pool of H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown after cases of coronavirus were detected there, in Tenerife

A sunbather wears a face mask in the pool of H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown after cases of coronavirus were detected there, in Tenerife

A sunbather wears a face mask in the pool of H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is on lockdown after cases of coronavirus were detected there, in Tenerife

Coronaviruses are different from flu viruses, so the flu jab won’t offer protection.

However, if you’re in a high-risk group for flu, and are eligible for a jab, it is advisable to have one. You don’t want complications of flu at a time when hospitals may be stretched by Covid-19 patients.

I know people who have recently come back from holiday, and are now ill. Should they be self-quarantining? And if they aren’t, should I call the police or someone else?

It is still flu season – other illnesses can be in circulation. The UK is advising self-quarantine only for people exposed to a known case, or who went to places where they might have encountered the virus. Check online for the current list of such places, and call the NHS, not the police, if you have doubts.

My child’s school has been closed due to children there having come back from a high-risk area. Should we be self-isolating now?

The school closed so you wouldn’t be exposed, and you will not have to self-quarantine.

People wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus, are seen in front of the giant Olympic rings at the waterfront area of Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan

People wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus, are seen in front of the giant Olympic rings at the waterfront area of Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan

People wearing protective face masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus, are seen in front of the giant Olympic rings at the waterfront area of Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan 

Is it safe to travel at all right now?

If you’re going somewhere with the same or lower levels of the virus than the UK, there seems little reason not to. In airports, rail terminals or other places where people with the virus may have been, take the precautions mentioned above. Don’t go close to places that have large or suspected outbreaks – this virus can spread fast. Check gov.uk for the latest travel advice.

Dr Carmen Dolea, head of International Health Regulations Secretariat, World Health Organisation, told The Times: ‘Aircraft cabins are absolutely not dangerous and travellers do not need to cancel their plans unless visiting restricted.

‘The International Air Traffic Association (Iata) maintains an up-to-date list on its Travel Centre website.

‘The best thing to do in aircraft cabins is to practise proper hand hygiene with alcohol-based rub or gels, and to use coughing etiquette. 

‘Make sure you cough and sneeze into your elbow, use a tissue and throw it in a bin.’ 

I’ve read that the virus jumps from animal to humans. Could my dog be at risk?

No. The WHO says there is no evidence of any involvement of cats or dogs with this virus.

Last week’s reports about a dog in Hong Kong testing ‘weak positive’ for coronavirus were ‘incredibly irresponsible’, according to Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Nottingham.

Experts say that the test probably picked up a bit of virus from contamination in the environment, not because the dog was infected.

The coronavirus is thought to have come originally from East Asian fruit bats – so unless you have one of those for a pet, you’re OK.

Even if you do have a bat, it will be fine – the virus doesn’t hurt them.

 

DailyMail Online


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