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Saturday, Dec 05, 2020

Coronavirus key questions: everything you need to know

From how to tell if you have Covid-19 to how to protect others - our experts answer the questions that really matter

What is Covid-19 and what are the symptoms?

Covid-19 is the illness caused by a novel member of the coronavirus family that has transferred from animals to humans. The most common symptoms are fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Some patients may also have a runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion and aches and pains or diarrhoea.

About 80% of people experience a mild case and recover without needing any special treatment. About one in six people become seriously ill.

How do I know if I have coronavirus and what happens next?

How do I protect myself and others from the coronavirus?

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds each time, and use hand sanitiser gel. Catch coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue and bin the tissue. If you don’t have a tissue available, cough and sneeze into the crook of your arm. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

How should I self-isolate if I am showing symptoms?

Different countries have set different rules, but broadly speaking, if you live alone and develop a new continuous cough or a high temperature it is recommended to stay at home for seven days after symptoms began. If you live with others, everyone in the house must stay at home and not leave for 14 days. Studies show that people have the coronavirus without symptoms for five days on average.

The infection may spread from person to person in shared houses. If anyone else starts to show symptoms while already in isolation, they must stay at home for seven days from the moment their own symptoms start, regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period. Check with your local medical authorities for specific advice that may be applied in your area.

What is social and physical distancing?

Many authorities are asking people to practise social and physical distancing. To reduce the spread of the virus, you should avoid meeting up with friends and family who don’t live with you. If you need to see the doctor or other essential services, use the phone, internet or social media if possible. In some places, you can go out for a walk for exercise and to buy essentials, but stay two metres apart from others. Check with local authorities for specific rules that may be applied in your area.

How do I care for someone suffering from Covid-19?

Keep the patient rested and comfortable in loose-fitting clothing, keep the room where they are well ventilated, and ensure they drink plenty of water. Over-the counter pain relief may be helpful – but paracetamol (Tylenol) is recommended rather than non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil).

To prevent the coronavirus spreading within the household, if possible keep the patient in their own separate room and using a separate bathroom. They should have separate cutlery, crockery, bedding and towels, and preferably wear a mask. Regularly clean and disinfect high-frequency touch surfaces in the home such as door handles, toilets, kitchen counters and tabletops. Everybody in the house should be washing their hands frequently.

Why are some people at greater risk from coronavirus?

People with diabetes or heart disease are known to be at greater risk from coronavirus. The over-70s and pregnant women are also considered to be at higher risk.

Where has the coronavirus spread?

The coronavirus has spread to more than 150 countries. See the global map of confirmed cases or how many confirmed cases there are in your area in the UK.

How many people have been affected globally?

What are countries doing to halt the spread of the coronavirus?

Many countries have imposed travel bans, closed schools and introduced curfews and lockdown conditions to try to halt the spread of the disease.

In the UK there is a set of lockdown conditions to limit the movement of people. Schools are closed except to the children of a defined government list of key workers. All non-essential travel is discouraged, and there are a list of government travel warnings about visiting the rest of the world.

Coronavirus lockdown in the UK: the dos and don’ts

Could I already have had this coronavirus?

There is no test to tell. Scientists are developing antibody tests to check for a prior infection, but those aren’t ready for clinical use. The only definitive way to know that you’ve had it is to test positive for it while you have it.

What can I do if I feel anxious about uncertainty over the coronavirus?

Can a mask protect me?

To some extent, yes, but not completely. Masks are effective at capturing droplets, a main transmission route of coronavirus. If you are likely to be in close contact with someone infected, a mask cuts the chance of the disease being passed on. If you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus or have been diagnosed, wearing a mask can also protect others. However, masks will probably make little difference if you’re just walking around town, and are no guarantee of protection. Medical staff working with Covid-19 patients have been catching the virus despite all the protective equipment they have at their disposal.

What do we know about Covid-19 and children?

Reassuringly for parents, the disease has generally been milder in children, though they can spread it without displaying any symptoms. There are many unknowns, and research is continuing.

How do I explain the coronavirus to my children?

With many children around the world suddenly taken out of school, it can be a worrying and bewildering time for them.

What happens to people’s lungs when they get coronavirus?

The cough and fever is a result of the infection reaching the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside. The lining of the air passages become injured, causing inflammation. The inflammation can spread throughout the lungs, causing them to fill with liquid, making breathing difficult. The lungs are then unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, which can cause death.

Where did the coronavirus originate?

The first recorded case of the coronavirus is believed to have emerged in November 2019 in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, China. Many of those first affected had worked in or visited the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the city of 11 million people.

Have there been other coronaviruses?

Yes. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) were both caused by coronaviruses that made the leap from animals to humans. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750.

What is the mortality rate of the new coronavirus?

It is probably about or a bit less than 1%. The rate appears to be as high as 4% from globally confirmed case figures, but it is likely that many mild cases are going undetected. However a 1% mortality rate would still make Covid-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally. The death rate also increases significantly for people over 60.

Why is it a pandemic and what does that mean?

A pandemic is declared by WHO when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads in multiple countries simultaneously. Declaring a pandemic has nothing to do with changes to the characteristics of the disease or how dangerous it is.

When will there be a coronavirus vaccine?

Currently there is no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus. Human trials are under way – but even if they go well and a cure is found, there are many barriers before global immunisation is feasible. A commercially available vaccine within a year would be considered quick.

How does coronavirus affect our pets?

There’s little evidence that domestic pets can catch the coronavirus, but contact between them and an infected person may help transmit the virus. It is recommended to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after coming into contact with any animal.

Coronavirus overload: five ways to fight misinformation and fear

People are being bombarded with new information at a time of heightened stress and it’s playing damaging games with our decision making. So how do we decide what’s good information and what isn’t?


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