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Covid basics: Living with the virus

How can we reduce the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19? (Updated 24th January 2022)

This page is about living with Covid-19. For more information on the virus itself including symptoms, tests etc, see FAQs Covid-19 (the virus). For more on the vaccine, see FAQs Covid-19 (the vaccine).

Basic information follows. However, you should check the precise guidance for individual countries.

Many councils have useful local information on their websites. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all following different paths, the UK government now effectively only speaks for England and, even in England, many councils see things differently. 

Can you make it simple?

That would be a great idea. What we see as the key messages are in the box below.

The laws around Covid-19 and our behaviour may change. But the basic facts around the virus don't change at all. There are no laws about crossing the road but most of us still look before we do it. It's a quick, easy precaution that massively reduces the risk. The same applies to Covid-19. 

  • get vaccinated
  • wear a mask - and social distance as far as possible.
  • avoid unnecessary travel
  • be air-aware - the highest risk is indoors. Risk increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with. Open windows, stay as far away from others as possible - even in another room. Talking can spread droplets far and wide.
  • wash your hands regularly and well and follow government hygiene guidance.

These quick, easy precautions will:

  • reduce your risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce your knob's risk from Covid-19 and long covid (yes, really!)
  • reduce your family and friends' risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce key workers' risk of Covid-19 and long covid.
  • reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant variants of Covid-19 developing

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

Is that it?

Pretty much, if you can actually do it but it's not always easy for all sorts of reasons.

Just remind me: what is Covid-19?

It is a type of coronavirus that was first detected in China at the end of 2019. Some of us now have some immunity to it having had the virus or been vaccinated against it. However, we don't really know how long any immunity lasts which is why it makes sense to get a booster vaccine whenever it's offered. New variants of the virus are emerging regularly. If you have had the virus, you can still catch it again. 

Some coronoviruses are mild; some like SARS in 2002 are more serious. This is one of the more dangerous - worldwide well over five and a half million people have officially died of Covid-19 and the real total is probably far more. The number of cases around the world is still rising in many places. Numbers of cases and deaths tend to fall when a 'lockdown' is introduced and rise again once it is lifted.

As well as the acute illness caused by the virus, there is evidence of long-term health problems afterwards - so-called long covid. For more on the virus, see: FAQs Covid-19 (the virus). For more on Long Covid, see FAQs Long Covid.

Sounds very serious.

It is. The UK (population: 68 million) has been hit very hard. It has more deaths from Covid-19 than any country in Europe - just ahead of Italy. The countries in the world with more deaths are generally far larger countries: the USA (pop: 331 million), Brazil (213 million), India (1380 million) Mexico (128 million) and Russia (145 million). This means that when it comes to the death rate (deaths per head of population), the UK has one of the worst records in the world. Of the G7 countries (the richest countries in the world), only the USA and Italy have worse death rates.

Covid deaths will continue to rise during 2022. Generally hospitalisation numbers lag behind case numbers and deaths lag behind hospitalisations. So if cases spike, deaths tend to spike a couple of weeks later. How high deaths spike depends on the severity of the variant of the virus and the level of immunity the population has to it.

Currently, the Omicron variant is the most common. It is relatively mild (compared to the more deadly Delta variant) and we are relatively well-protected by current vaccines.

So are we over the worst?

Nobody knows for certain. (Honest, nobody - not the World Health Organisation, not the government and not your mate on Facebook.) The next variant could be more deadly or less deadly, more vaccine-resistant or less. The fewer people who are vaccinated, the higher the risk of a dangerous new variant. 

But aren't most people vaccinated?

Richer countries have far higher levels of vaccination. About 60% of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine but in poorer countries it's much, much lower. Only 9.5% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

About 70% of the UK population are fully vaccinated, a little lower than comparable countries like France and Germany. But in a world of international travel, the low levels of vaccination in poorer countries aren't just a risk to the people who live in those countries but to everybody. That's why the World Health Organisation is campaigning for vaccines to be more fairly shared.

How do I avoid Covid-19?

Good question. At every age, men are at higher risk of developing serious Covid-19 (including a higher risk of death) than women so we need to take this seriously.

The main thing is to get vaccinated and take any booster shots that are offered.

On a day to day basis, you need to avoid getting the water droplets carrying the virus onto your face. Larger droplets fall to ground or nearby surfaces but smaller ones can be blown around on the air for some time and over some distance. 

The highest risk is indoors. This increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with so avoid crowds and long times spent in poorly-ventilated environments. If you need to spend time indoors with others, keep it as ventilated as possible. Open windows, doors, vents, fans etc.

Keeping your distance from others will obviously help - if you're in a space where keeping 2m apart might be difficult, consider a face covering (mask, bandana, burkha, whatever).

All of the following will also help to some extent (they're good advice for avoiding all viruses, not just Covid-19):

  • Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap. Do this often, especially when you get home or to work. Only touch your face with clean hands.
  • Cleaning hands with alcohol-based sanitiser gel (60-80% alcohol preferably) if there’s no soap and water
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue (and bin it immediately). If there’s no alternative, use your sleeve (but remember viruses can live for days on clothing). Wash hands as soon as you can.
  • Avoiding touching door handles, switches etc - use gloves, extend your sleeve or use your foot, hip, elbow or parts of your hand you’re unlikely to touch to your face (eg. your knuckle or closed fist)
Tell me about the current guidelines.

You can find the guidance for your particular part of the UK at: gov.uk/coronavirus

The UK government does not have a great track record. Just as it tends to lockdown too late, it tends to open too early. So make your own decisions about what is safe. The first question you should ask yourself is not am I allowed to do X, Y or Z but how much do you really need to do it and how safe can you make it. If you don't really need to do it and/or can't make it safe, perhaps don't do it. Think for yourself.

England's rate of infection (called the R number) is now estimated at between 0.8 and 1.1. When the number is over 1 (meaning that one person with the virus infects more than one other), infection takes off and cases start increasing rapidly.

What are new variants of concern (VOC)?

Viruses mutate. There is evidence of new variants (or strains) of Covid-19 developing which appear to be easier to catch. Variants of concern would be variants that may be more infectious, more deadly and/or more resistant to one or more of the Covid-19 vaccines.

The Delta variant was part of the explanation for the increase in cases in early 2021 while the Omicron variant was behind the increase in cases at the end of 2021. There will be other VOCs. Areas with high levels of VOCs may have special arrangements. You'll need to check local council websites to see if this applies to you.

In terms of seeing people, what can I do?

This is the official guidance on what you can and can't do in England. You may judge that the UK's government's official guidance follows the science or you may feel it reflects the politics inside the governing party. In other words, as we've said, you need to think for yourself. You also need to check national and local websites as suggested. 

There's more on the UK government's line on social distancing here.

Is it safe to go back to work?

That's up to you and your employer but in terms of maximum safety, it makes sense to work at home if you can.

The government has issued guidance to employers about how to make workplaces safer. Employers should consult with their employees to determine how to work safely. If you're asked to go to work but you don't think it's safe to work, talk to your trade union if you can. There's also information on the TUC website including their answer to the question: Can I refuse to work because of coronavirus?

Stay at home if you're ill. But best discuss things with your workplace. They should be developing policy on:

  • pay
  • what to do if you’re ill and 
  • implementing the government guidance at work

Those who work in businesses and workplaces which can open are being encouraged to go back to work and ideally to do that by walking or cycling rather than taking public transport. (For people who have no alternative but to use public transport, the government has published guidance.)

Is it safe to go on holiday or travel abroad?

The Foreign Office website includes the latest advice. 

For European travel, there is a useful EU site on what is going on in EU countries called Reopen Europe.

Why 2m social distance?

Because it reduces the risk by about 90%. Read: Social distancing - 2m is twice as good as 1m. But there is no 2 metre rule - stay as far away as far as possible. Droplets can travel some distance and hang around in the air for some time especially indoors. Talking can spread droplets as much if not more than coughing.

What about wearing a mask?

In confined spaces where social distancing of 2m is difficult, wear a face-covering or mask. This obligatory in some public transport systems.  Check local rules. More on masks and how to make them

The highest risk is indoors. This increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with. Don't hang about indoors. If you spend time indoors with others, keep it as ventilated as possible. Open windows, doors, vents, fans etc.

Tell me more about the vaccine?

We have full FAQs on Covid-19 vaccines here

I'm a carer.

Carers UK have published some useful guidance.

How do I find out more about Covid-19?

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

For health information, check your country's NHS site.

Date published 09/03/20
Date of last review 24/01/22
Date of next review 22/04/22

References

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