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Coronavirus: From home hygiene, to schools, food and friends, all the essential information you need

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Does handwashing really work?

Yes. A new study published by the highly-respected Cochrane Database which summarises and interprets numerous studies says that handwashing cuts the chances of contracting a respiratory illness such as coronavirus by 54 per cent – the best odds of any deterrent.

So wash your hands – scrubbing every bit of skin from your wrist downwards – at every opportunity for at least 20 seconds (or for however long it takes to sing Happy Birthday in your head twice).

Family and friends can easily bring in the virus. To reduce this threat, institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house. And make sure there is one hand towel for each person

Family and friends can easily bring in the virus. To reduce this threat, institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house. And make sure there is one hand towel for each person

Family and friends can easily bring in the virus. To reduce this threat, institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house. And make sure there is one hand towel for each person

Should I use public transport?

Only if necessary. If you can work from home rather than commuting, and also minimise shopping trips, you will greatly reduce your infection risk.

One recent study in Nottingham found that people who contracted the flu virus in 2011 were nearly six times more likely than others to have travelled by public transport in the five days before developing symptoms.

Planes, trains and buses are high-risk environments for easily transmitted viruses – and Covid-19 is particularly infectious – to spread on to our hands via surfaces such as handrails, seats and handles.

Some commuters are turning to extravagant face masks which the World Health Organisation suggests can protect others if you are coughing and spluttering.

But if you’re more concerned about your own welfare, keep your hands in your pockets whenever possible and try to travel at off-peak times.

If you can work from home rather than commuting, and also minimise shopping trips, you will greatly reduce your infection risk

If I stay at home, will I be safe?

No. Family and friends can easily bring in the virus. To reduce this threat, institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house. 

And make sure there is one hand towel for each person. If that’s not practicable, wash towels frequently.

How should I greet a friend?

Kissing somebody on the cheek is, as the French government is warning, a one-way ticket to speeding up viral transmission. As to kissing on the mouth… just say no!

According to GP and health commentator Dr Rosemary Leonard, we should ‘stop shaking hands’ too.

Perhaps that’s why Germany’s interior minister Horst Seehofer waved away Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand at a meeting yesterday.

The safest way to greet someone is to simply say: ‘Hello.’ 

But if that’s not enough, recent tests by Aberystwyth University show that fist-bumping transfers only a tenth of the bacteria that a handshake transmits.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer refuses shaking hand with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Integration Summit at Prime Ministry building in Berlin, Germany on March 02, 2020

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer refuses shaking hand with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Integration Summit at Prime Ministry building in Berlin, Germany on March 02, 2020

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer refuses shaking hand with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel during Integration Summit at Prime Ministry building in Berlin, Germany on March 02, 2020

Do I need to change the way I wash my clothes?

According to the NHS all underwear, towels and household linen should be washed at 60C or 40C with a bleach-based laundry product to prevent microbes spreading.

There’s no point adding more detergent, as modern machines are programmed to break up and wash away surplus cleaning agent.

Using a dryer on high heat for more than 28 minutes can also kill harmful micro-organisms – though you could also hang up your washing outdoors in direct sunlight, which has disinfecting properties.

Always remember to wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.

Should I stockpile food?

There’s no need to hoard for a nuclear winter, but it might be wise to have some long-lasting foods in the larder.

Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, Australia, has suggested buying cereals, grains, beans, lentils, pasta, tinned fish, vegetables, fruit, oil, dried fruit, nuts, powdered milk and a few sweet treats.

This will also cut your number of shopping trips – thus reducing your risk of exposure – and could be useful in the unlikely event that your town or city is put into lockdown.

(If you rely on online supermarket delivery, be sure to order your items well in advance. Online supermarket Ocado is warning that some customers are buying ‘particularly large orders’ and ‘delivery slots are selling out quicker than expected’.

A woman with a face mask stands near empty stalls in a supermarket in the Qwartz shopping centre in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, on March 2, 2020. - Supermarket shelves in countries affected by the COVID-19 virus have been emptied of basic necessities, such as pasta and toilet paper, in recent days but there is no shortage so far

A woman with a face mask stands near empty stalls in a supermarket in the Qwartz shopping centre in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, on March 2, 2020. - Supermarket shelves in countries affected by the COVID-19 virus have been emptied of basic necessities, such as pasta and toilet paper, in recent days but there is no shortage so far

A woman with a face mask stands near empty stalls in a supermarket in the Qwartz shopping centre in Villeneuve-la-Garenne, north of Paris, on March 2, 2020. – Supermarket shelves in countries affected by the COVID-19 virus have been emptied of basic necessities, such as pasta and toilet paper, in recent days but there is no shortage so far

What if my town is locked down?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has refused to rule out placing British cities on lockdown – when residents’ movements are restricted – as is the case in parts of China and northern Italy.

Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the Government has the power to close schools, shut down public transport and stop mass gatherings to protect the public – though it seems unlikely it will be enforced.

Will exams be affected?

Students should keep on swotting. The exam watchdog Ofqual announced yesterday that schools in England should prepare as usual for the summer exam season.

However, the Government will make contingency plans if there is a ‘widespread outbreak’.

What about school trips?

Some overseas trips by schools, colleges and universities are being cancelled already.

Even visits to places outside virus-stricken areas are affected, as some institutions are concerned that shepherding youngsters through highly populated zones such as airports may be a risk too far.

Check with your school etc for the most up-to-date information.

Should older people worry?

The evidence so far is that older people (especially those with underlying health issues) who have weaker immune systems are at greater risk of serious illness and death. Children and young adults seem more resilient.

According to recent analysis of more than 44,000 cases from China, the death rate was ten times higher in the very elderly compared with the middle-aged.

The elderly should be encouraged to limit their outings and social contact and insist that visitors wash their hands upon arrival.

So the real question is: how keen are you to go out? Any concert trip, for example, raises the risk of catching winter flu and colds.

It’s important to factor in the current state of health of your guest and how likely it is they’ll be exposed to the virus – but ultimately it’s up to you and them whether you want to risk it.

What about prescriptions?

Factory shutdowns in China where many vital ingredients for common drugs are made are an issue.

Some of the largest pharmaceutical companies – including AstraZeneca and Pfizer – have said that the outbreak could affect their supplies.

There is some evidence of panic-buying of over-the-counter medicines, though none of these will protect against coronavirus or its worst symptoms. Ocado has reportedly just sold out of Calpol.

Can I carry on going to church?

The Church of England has said that there is no need to change normal faith practices, such as taking wine from the communal chalice.

But the Catholic Church is warning against taking wine from the chalice and advising congregations to accept the communion wafer in their hands rather than have it placed on the tongue.

Can you get infected twice?

If you get infected and fight off the infection, then your immune system will be primed with antibodies to destroy the virus should you be exposed again.

It’s like being vaccinated, and should be just as effective.

However, there are fears that the virus can lie dormant in the body with minimal symptoms, and then return.

This seems to have happened to one Japanese woman whose symptoms re-emerged after she had been declared infection-free.

Should I cancel my ski trip?

Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for latest travel advice. If it advises against travel to a certain region and you decide to go, your insurance won’t be valid.

Nor will insurers pay out if you cancel a holiday to a location that is not deemed high risk.

As of last night, there were no warnings about French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian ski resorts – although the Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to 11 small towns in northern Italy.

Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for latest travel advice. If it advises against travel to a certain region and you decide to go, your insurance won’t be valid

Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for latest travel advice. If it advises against travel to a certain region and you decide to go, your insurance won’t be valid

Keep an eye on the gov.uk website for latest travel advice. If it advises against travel to a certain region and you decide to go, your insurance won’t be valid

Can my dog catch the virus?

According to the World Health Organisation, there’s no evidence at present that dogs or cats can be infected with coronavirus.

But given the virus is believed to have already jumped species once – there is speculation that it originated in bats – we cannot rule it out from happening again.

Always wash your hands with soap and hot water after contact with pets.

According to the World Health Organisation, there’s no evidence at present that dogs or cats can be infected with coronavirus

According to the World Health Organisation, there’s no evidence at present that dogs or cats can be infected with coronavirus

According to the World Health Organisation, there’s no evidence at present that dogs or cats can be infected with coronavirus

Any upsides?

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, quite possibly. 

If people heed the new health warnings, adopt rigorous personal hygiene habits – and stick to them – we may well see a drop in infectious diseases overall.

As of last night, there were no warnings about French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian ski resorts – although the Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to 11 small towns in northern Italy. A near empty St Mark's Square in Venice is pictured above

As of last night, there were no warnings about French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian ski resorts – although the Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to 11 small towns in northern Italy. A near empty St Mark's Square in Venice is pictured above

As of last night, there were no warnings about French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian ski resorts – although the Foreign Office advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to 11 small towns in northern Italy. A near empty St Mark’s Square in Venice is pictured above

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