Coronavirus Duotone Credit: Shutterstock / Love You Stock

Coronavirus Latest: How Can I Protect Myself As PM Says Families 'Will Lose Loved Ones?'

Coronavirus Duotone Credit: Shutterstock / Love You Stock

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said 'many more families are going to lose loved ones' as he addressed the British public with the latest advice on coronavirus after moving the UK into the delay phase of the government's action plans.

The novel coronavirus – or COVID-19 – has now infected more than 124,519 people and killed in the region of 4,607 of those infected worldwide, according to World Health Organization figures.

There have been 590 cases confirmed in the UK and 10 deaths as a result of the virus.

Globally, the virus has spread to 113 countries and territories around the world.

The Prime Minister set out advice to the public as he moved the UK into the delay phase of its four-phase action plan in response to the coronavirus outbreak which is now a global pandemic.

The first phase was ‘containment’ in which officials aimed to detect, confirm and isolate early cases while aiming to trace people who had been in contact with those infected, with the overall aim of preventing the virus from spreading widely across the UK.

The delay phase aims to slow the spread of the virus with the potential for more drastic measures, although at this stage this will go as far as banning large-scale gatherings or closing schools as has been the case in some other countries. 

The Scottish government is advising that gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled from next week, but this will not at this stage include closing schools or universities.

Mr Johnson, addressing the nation at a Press conference on Thursday, said he was levelling with the British public in saying that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time,” after saying the virus was now a global pandemic. He said:

“From tomorrow, if you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild, either a continuous cough or a high temperature, then you should stay at home for at least seven days to protect others.”

He added that the most dangerous period is “not now, but some weeks away, depending how fast it spreads,” saying that the government’s aim to delay the peak of the virus would mean the NHS would be in a stronger state to face the challenge the virus poses.

Dr Patrick Vallance, chief science adviser, said that the isolation of whole households was under consideration but he has advised against such a move at this stage.

He said: "The idea of households going into complete isolation, that comes a bit later.

"At the moment most people would not have the coronavirus. You may have to do the whole thing again, and then the effect of that wains. People don't want to do that time and time again.

"It's not possible to stop everyone getting it and it's also not desirable, because we need to have some immunity to protect ourselves in the future."

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty added that the washing of hands was of extreme importance, saying:

“We cannot emphasise too much the point about washing hands. That is actually an incredible powerful public health intervention."

How Can I Protect Myself From Coronavirus?

It seems inevitable that the virus will now spread and that more cases will be confirmed in the UK in the coming weeks.

However, the World Health Organization, Public Health England and the UK government are advising that people take some simple steps in order to minimise the risk of infection, or infecting others, as much as possible.

This includes:

Frequent hand washing – with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water, with a thorough wash for at least 20 seconds

Covering mouths and noses with a flexed elbow or a tissue if about to sneeze or cough

Avoiding contact with anyone who has a fever or cough

Seeking early medical help and checking advice online on the NHS helpline, if you develop any signs of symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulties with breathing such as shortness of breath

Anyone who thinks they have symptoms can answer questions on an NHS online form which advises what to do next at NHS 111 online

Other Measures To Protect Others:

Stay at home for seven days if you have symptoms, however mild - such as cough or high temperature

Schools should not go on international trips

Over-70s should not go on cruises

What About Military Communities?

There has been no public information specifically for members of the Armed Forces and their families so military communities should follow the same official advice and guidance as the rest of the population.

This includes following the advice and guidance on NHS 111 online.

NHS 111 online

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic. 

This should not be a cause for panic. UK Chief Medical Officers have said the risk here is moderate.

Therefore, the British government is telling travellers arriving in the UK from the following countries to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, self-isolating for at least fourteen days. 

That includes

  • China
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Laos
  • Macau
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar (Burma)
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Tenerife – only the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

British people travelling and living overseas following the outbreak of novel coronavirus should check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

Use the 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next.

Health officials say it is crucially important that you do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

In Scotland call your GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours.

What Are The Symptoms Of Coronavirus/COVID-19?

Common signs of infection include:

  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

In more severe cases, the infection can cause:

  • Pneumonia
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure and even death

What Is A Pandemic? 

An epidemic is when an unusually high number of people have been infected in the same geographical location. A pandemic is when the infection has spread globally. 

According to WHO a pandemic is declared when a new disease spreads around the world at alarming rates. 

Who Decides When A Pandemic Is Declared? 

Speaking at a press conference on March 11, the director-general of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, officially declared the outbreak a pandemic. 

The WHO defines a pandemic as "an outbreak of a new pathogen that spreads easily from person to person across the globe".

It does not determine the severity of the symptoms of the disease. 

A disease needs to be spread through person-person to be declared a pandemic. Many people around the world have cancer but it is not a pandemic. Whereas, HIV/AIDS is a pandemic, with around 40 million people living with the virus globally. 

The last time WHO declared a pandemic was in 2009 with the outbreak of H1N1 influenza, also known as 'swine flu'. The decision at the time was controversial and widely criticised for spreading unnecessary panic. The symptoms of the flu were mild and relatively easy to contain. 

Other historical pandemics have taken the lives of millions of people worldwide - Black Death in the middle ages had claimed 200 lives. In the 20th-century smallpox killed over 300 people before being eradicated in 1980 following a global immunisation campaign by the WHO.    

It has been estimated that it would take at least a year to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. 

What Happens Now? 

Following the announcement of pandemic statues, the WHO called on countries to step up their game. 

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:

"I remind all countries that we are calling on you to: activate and scale up your emergency response mechanisms; communicate with your people about the risks and how they can protect themselves; find, isolate, test and treat every Covid-19 case and trace every contact; ready your hospitals; protect and train your health workers.

"Let’s all look out for each other."

What Is the UK Doing To Contain The Outbreak?

At least 590 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Britain already and ten people have died.

At the beginning of March, the government announced their four-phased plan to "contain, delay, research, mitigate" the outbreak. 

The government has admitted that efforts to contain the outbreak have failed. Therefore, the second stage of the four-phased plan has been activated. 

The 'Delay' phase of Boris Johnson's action plan outlines the government's efforts to limit the spread of the outbreak.  

This means that efforts will be made to slow down the spread of the virus across the country and this could include measures to encourage social distancing and isolation at a later stage. 

Novel Coronavirus 2019 outbreak and coronaviruses influenza background graphic Credit Shutterstock Lightspring
Credit: Shutterstock / Lightspring

What Is The Official Advice On Coronavirus

The advice is similar to the ‘Catch It, Bin It, Kill It’ slogan which became popular during the Swine Flu pandemic of 2009.

This strain of coronavirus is a novel coronavirus (nCoV) - a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

As mentioned above, there are measures that health officials say might reduce the chances of ‘catching’ any respiratory virus, as follows:

Wash your hands often

Cover your mouth when you cough

Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

The virus is commonly spread through the air and can be spread by infected people sneezing or coughing.

It can also be spread by close personal contact with an infected person, such as shaking their hands.

Many people around the world have been wearing medical face masks and while such a move may or may not offer limited protections, there is no specific medical advice that suggests this is an effective way to avoid infection and the NHS is not recommending masks as official health advice.

Are There Any Specific Medicines To Prevent Or Treat The New Coronavirus?

Coronavirus Myth Busting Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus
Credit: World Health Organization

Do Masks Help Protect Against Coronavirus?

There are reports of a surge in demand for surgical-style face masks that is said to be creating a shortage in some areas of the world but how effective they are at preventing infection is debatable.

Officials have been seen wearing masks during public addresses but health experts question how effective masks can be, given that laboratory tests show that the virus can survive for days on some everyday materials such as plastic and glass. Washing hands is suggested as a more effective method of prevention.

There are also question marks over the quality of many masks being sold worldwide - as medically-approved surgical masks might offer a little protection but perhaps not many of the mass-produced versions on the market that are more flimsy.

When And How Should We Use Masks?

    Official health authorities such as WHO have issued guidance as to how to properly use masks.

    • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with the suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
    • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
    • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
    • If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

    Cover Image Credit: Shutterstock / Love You Stock

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