The World Health Organization has recently declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, meaning it has now spread around the world beyond expectations. According to the WHO, more than 132,500 people have been diagnosed in 123 countries around the world – and Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic. It’s certainly a stressful time, but these tips and precautions can help keep you, your family and the people around you safe.
Wash your hands thoroughly and often
This is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the virus.
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially after being out in public or touching a common surface that may have been touched by others, or after sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing.
If you can’t get to a sink, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, making sure you cover all surfaces of your hands.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people
When you go out in public, keep a safe distance between yourself and other people, especially those who are unwell.
This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick, which includes older adults and those who have serious chronic medical conditions. Similarly, avoid large crowds and non-essential travel (especially cruise and plane trips).
Stay home if you’re unwell
New government guidelines advise that you stay at home for 7 days if you have either a high temperature or a new, continuous cough.
If you feel you are developing COVID-19 symptoms including, fever, cough, and shortness of breath, stay at home and call your doctor. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
You should also try to stay away from older people and those with long-term health conditions, as they are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Additionally, make sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) at the ready to help treat fever and other symptoms.
Enlist the help of friends, family and delivery services to deliver things you need such as food shopping and medicines.
Lastly, make sure to drink plenty of water every day.
Remember, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
If you are at higher risk for serious illness because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is especially important that you take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick.
Make sure to take everyday precautions, such as covering your mouth and nose with a tissue (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze, bin used tissues straight away, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily such as doorknobs, handles, keyboards, and phones.
What to do if you get sick
If you fall mildly ill with COVID-19, you should self-isolate at home as most people will be able to recover this way. This means you should restrict all outdoor activities, unless you are in need of medical care – don’t go to work, school, and avoid public transportation.
Call your doctor straight away to discuss your symptoms, but do not visit the GP, pharmacy or hospital in person.
If your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, if your conditions worsens, or if you feel you are unable to cope with your symptoms at home, use the 111 coronavirus service.
What is the coronavirus and is it new?
According to the WHO, coronaviruses make up a large family of viruses that are transmitted between animals and people. These viruses can cause mild to moderate respiratory diseases like the common cold as well as more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
There are other examples of coronaviruses that have caused devastating severe symptoms around the world previously, such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the 2002-2003 SARS pandemic in China.
What we are currently hearing about is a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) – a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. Originating in Wuhan, China, the new coronavirus had not previously been detected before December 2019. It has since been spreading around the world by international travellers, including in parts of Europe.
The new 2019-nCoV belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS-CoV, but it is a different strain of the virus.
What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
Like with other respiratory illnesses, the new coronavirus can cause mild symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. The main symptoms also include a high temperature and shortness of breath.
It can, however, prove more severe for some people, in some cases leading to pneumonia and breathing difficulties. It is in more rare situations that the virus can also be fatal. Those with pre-existing conditions or who are older seem to be more vulnerable to the more severe symptoms, with recovery in most cases depending on the strength of their immune system.
Currently, there are no vaccines for the new coronavirus and antibiotics cannot be used to treat it.
How, then, can we protect ourselves?
The new virus can be transmitted from human to human, usually following close contact with someone who is infected.
We don’t yet know just how dangerous it is, but though there is currently no vaccine, there are things you can do to help prevent it from spreading, such as:
- Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- Bin used tissues straight away!
- Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water often, or use hand sanitiser gel
- Avoid close contact with people who are unwell
Scientists are still trying to understand how contagious the virus is and how exactly it spreads, so in the absence of a current cure and more substantial data it’s important to follow these simple steps to give yourself as much protection as you can!