FAQs: Covid-19 (the new coronavirus)

How can we reduce the impact of the new coronavirus Covid-19? (Updated 4 June 2020)

Different governments and councils in the UK are now saying and doing different things and giving slightly different advice and guidance on the coronavirus Covid-19.

You are advised to check national and local government websites for the latest information. Many council have useful local information on their websites. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all following slightly 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 key messages about Covid-19 are very simple:

  • wash your hands regularly and well and follow government hygiene guidance. (There is an online joke suggesting washing your hands as well as if you've just chopped chillis and now want to masturbate. That is actually good advice.) 
  • keep away from others - stay home if you can and if out keep at least 2m from others. This is 'social distancing'. (If you don't understand why social distancing applies to everyone, not just those at higher risk, read: Social distancing is about understanding risk)

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

Is that it?

Pretty much, if you can actually do it. The problem is that, for various reasons, not everybody can.

Just remind me: what is Covid-19?

It is a new type of coronavirus that was first detected in China at the end of 2019. Because it’s new, most of us don't have immunity to it yet.

Some coronoviruses are mild; some like SARS in 2002 are more serious. This is one of the more dangerous - worldwide over 380,000 people have died and the real total is probably far more. The virus is now spreading across the world including the UK at speed.

Sounds very serious.

It is. The UK has more deaths from Covid-19 than any country in the world other than the USA. This island has never seen anything like this in peace-time and many other countries are going or have gone even further to reduce contact between people. This would not be happening if the threat posed by this new virus was not very high indeed. The objective is to avoid high risk individuals coming into contact with a potential killer. It's not about us as individuals. You may think you're fine but you could well pass it on.

How do you catch Covid-19?

Through contact with someone who has it. It’s a respiratory virus meaning it affects lungs and breathing. It is spread through water droplets in coughs and sneezes.

These water droplets can also live on surfaces. Most respiratory viruses such as corona viruses can live on surfaces for a few days. It depends on the surface and the temperature.

Viruses survive longest in colder, dry environments - that why we have respiratory viruses (such as colds and flu) in winter.

What are the symptoms of Covid-19? 

There are three symptoms which the NHS says 'most people with coronavirus have at least one of'.

Since the start of the crisis, the NHS have listed high temperature and new continuous cough as the main symptoms. On Monday 18th May they added: loss of or changes in sense of taste or smell (meaning you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different from normal).

There are other symptoms including breathlessness, headache, muscle ache and other symptoms typical to colds and flu. (For some, symptoms appear to develop over a few days: a high temperature, then a cough, then breathlessness.)

Do I need to take my temperature?

No. You can usually tell if you have a high temperature - your forehead, back or chest will feel hot. Some public places are checking people’s temperatures. 

As regards coughing, the NHS say to look out for coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. (If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual.)

But the truth there are many symptoms associated with the virus, many of which also appear in other conditions. To coin a phrase, stay alert. If you're feeling poorly and it persists, seek help.

How do I avoid Covid-19?

The main thing is to avoid getting the water droplets carrying the virus onto your face.

All of the following are designed to stop this from happening:

  • Wash 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.
  • Clean hands with alcohol-based sanitiser gel (60-80% alcohol preferably) if there’s no soap and water
  • Cough or sneeze 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.
  • Avoid 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)
  • Keep 2m away from others - if you're in a space where this might be difficult, consider a face covering (mask, bandana, burkha, whatever)

In England, you should only go out for:

  • work (and only if you can't work from home), 
  • shopping at those shops allowed to open (eg. for food and medicine)
  • exercise or time outdoors
  • any medical need including helping vulnerable people. 

There's more on staying at home without going mad on this website and the offical guidance on what you can and can't do in England on the government website. 

Am I at risk of Covid-19?

Yes. We’re all at risk. But it’s not just about you. If you’re young and fit, the virus in you may be less severe than in an older person (but not necessarily - it also kills young fit people). The point is you don’t want to be the person who passes a potential killer on to someone else. To minimise the impact of the virus, we all need to do these things mentioned above.

Many - but not all - of the people dying from Covid-19 are older and/or have existing health issues (such as diabetes or diseases of the lungs, heart or liver). For this reason, older people or those with existing health issues that may weaken their resistance need to be especially mindful of the guidance.

The lungs of children are not fully developed until their teens. It may offer some protection against this particular virus. But we really don't know how it affects children or how infectious they might be to others. 

It’s a myth that young adults are not affected - Li Wenliang the Chinese doctor who first raised the alarm about the new virus and later died was only 34 years old.

It’s a respiratory virus so smokers who get the virus are at more risk of it being serious.

Men are twice as likely to die of Covid-19 as women. There is more on the biological and behavioural reasons why men might be at greater risk on this site.

People from black, asian and minority ethnic communities are also at higher risk.

So what can I do now that I couldn't do before 1 June?

You should still only mix with your household (ie the people you live with). But it is OK to see up to six people from outside your household in outdoor spaces including private gardens provided you remain 2m apart.

You can go out as often as you like for exercise and to enjoy the outdoors. You could even play sport if you keep 2m apart (so tennis or golf may work).

Most shops and certain other businesses cannot open by law but some shops (eg garden centres, car showrooms, outdoor markets) are open.

Schools have been open for some children throughout the crisis but now more schools are open to more children. The government put it like this: 'in line with the arrangements made by your school, (you can) send your child to school or nursery if they are in early years, reception, year 1 or year 6, if you could not before.'

Those who work in businesses and workplaces which can legally 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 do all this?

That depends who you ask. The government set five tests for easing lockdown:

  • that the NHS could cope
  • a sustained and consistent fall in the death rate
  • new infections decreasing to a 'manageable' rate
  • having enough testing and personal protective equipement (PPE) and meeting other 'operational challenges'
  • no risk of a second wave overwhelming the NHS

They say they are met. But not everyone agrees.

Official statistics suggest that although Covid-19 deaths are slowly reducing in the country as a whole, some areas may still not have passed the peak. Reacting to this and other data, some councils are delaying opening schools. The so-called independent Sage, an unofficial group of expert scientists, think it is too early to reopen schools. The deputy chief medical officer called this a 'very dangerous moment' and other members of the official Sage committee which advises the UK government have also expressed alarm. Health bodies such as the Association of Directors of Public Health and the Royal College of Nursing have also expressed concern over the recent lifting of 'lockdown' restrictions. 

The UK's rate of infection (called the R number) remains very close to 1 (0.7 to 0.9 on 29 May). Once 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.

Is it safe to go back to work?

That's a big question. The government has issued guidance to employers about how to make workplaces safer. If 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. (The 111 online Coronavirus service will tell you how to get an isolation note for work.) 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
Why 2m social distance?

Because it reduces the risk by about 90%. Read: Social distancing - 2m is twice as good as 1m.

What about wearing a mask?

In confined spaces where social distancing of 2m is difficult, you may want to wear a face-covering or mask. The government suggests in shops, trains and buses. They have issued guidance on how to make a mask.

If you wear a mask, make sure you know how to use it. Some people say that wearing a mask prevents them from touching their face and reminds them not to do it. A scarf, balaclava, bandana, burkha or similar could do the job as well as a mask.

The latest research from University of East Anglia looked at 31 different studies into the use of face masks and concluded: 'the evidence is not sufficiently strong to support widespread use of facemasks as a protective measure against Covid-19. However, there is enough evidence to support the use of facemasks for short periods of time by particularly vulnerable individuals when in transient higher risk situations.' The research is in pre-print which means it has not been peer-reviewed.

Wearing a mask is not an alternative to staying 2m apart. You must always stay 2m apart if it is possible.

I have symptoms

If you have:

  • a high temperature and/or
  • a new, continuous cough,
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste 

and you live alone, the NHS say you should use the 111 online Coronavirus service: 111.nhs.uk/covid-19

If your symptoms are mild, you'll probably be advised to stay at home (self-isolate) for 7 days. But, and this is very important, if you live with others, the whole household should self-isolate for 14 days. You should try to keep contact with others in the house to a minimum.

At this stage, only call NHS 111 if you can't get help online.

Call 111 or again visit 111.nhs.uk/covid-19 if an individual's symptoms get worse or do not clear up after seven days.

Don't go out if you're infectious, under emergency powers, police and some other public officials will be able to detain you if they suspect you have Covid-19.

Can I get tested?

Theoretically. The goverment say tests are available for:

  • anyone in England and Scotland who has symptoms of coronavirus, whatever their age
  • anyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland aged over 5 who has symptoms of coronavirus

The official guidance explans how.

You should be able to access 'priority testing' if you or someone in your household is an essential worker (the essential worker list is longer than you might think - not just NHS).

England are also testing: social care workers and residents in care homes, with or without symptoms and NHS workers and patients without symptoms, in line with NHS England guidance.

What is self-isolation?

The aim of self-isolation is to keep you away from others so that if you do have it, you don’t pass it on. It involves staying at home as separate as possible from others. Ideally, stay in your room. Use the bathroom after everyone else in your household and then clean it. Don’t share towels, utensils etc. Get delivered items left outside. The NHS has useful advice for those staying at home and there's more on this site.

I'm a carer.

Carers UK have published some useful guidance.

Is there a vaccine?

Not yet and there won’t be until late 2021 at the earliest.

What about the pneumonia vaccine? I've heard that most Covid-19 deaths are pneumonia.

Probably not effective in this case as Covid-19 causes viral pneumonia. Respiratory physician Professor John Wilson, who is president-elect of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said: 'The pneumonia vaccine is aimed at a bacterial infection (pneumococcus) not a viral pneumonia.'

John also ruled out the flu vaccine. 'The influenza vaccine is closer, but this is a different virus and (the vaccine is) not known to be active against Covid-19.'

How do I find out more about Covid-19?

You can find general Covid-19 info at: nhs.uk and from the online 111 service: 111.nhs.uk.

Outside England, there's also:

Date published 09/03/20
Date of last review 04/06/20
Date of next review 08/06/20


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