HEALTH: Coronavirus – sorting fact from fiction


Recent news reports of the first UK death from coronavirus have sparked panic, with people queuing outside shops for antibacterial hand gels, and supermarkets selling out of staples like toilet roll and pasta. But is the panic justified? How prepared are we for new cases? We got expert advice from those in the know. 

None of the individual hospitals are currently accepting questions about coronavirus, and instead are referring to advice from Public Health England, or redirecting queries to the Department of Health and Social Care. This is another aspect of the blanket approach currently in force across the UK when it comes to this outbreak; every hospital has a set of standardised guidelines for preparing and handling potential cases. 

If I believe I have symptoms, should I go to my local hospital? 

Absolutely not. If you believe you are suffering symptoms, or if you have been exposed to someone else with symptoms, DO NOT visit your GP, pharmacy or hospital. To limit the risk of exposing others to the virus, the NHS is asking that you call 111 in the first instance.The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to those of flu: 

  • Cough
  • High temperature
  • Shortness of breath

How are local hospitals preparing for potential coronavirus patients?

Potential sufferers are being warned NOT to go to their doctor, pharmacy or hospital if they believe they are infected. Instead, they are being asked to call the NHS 111 service, where they will be advised how to proceed. 

Testing ‘pods’ have been created in hospitals to minimise the risk of exposing sufferers to other members of the public, with additional space for a waiting area for further patients, in case it becomes necessary. NHS guidelines stipulate that these pods must be set apart from other areas of the hospitals and clearly signposted, so that individuals are able to easily find their way to them. 

What happens when someone arrives in a testing pod? 

Local hospitals are remaining tight-lipped on the subject but a recent news report from a hospital in Antrim, Northern Ireland, of a drive-through testing pod. In this case, patients are able to drive themselves to the unit after receiving NHS 111 advice, where prepared staff are on-hand to perform swab tests and other health checks. The patient is then asked to return home immediately, after which they will be contacted when the results of the tests come back. Currently, they are estimating an approximate four-hour turnaround, after which the hospital can provide further instructions based on the result. 

I’ve been asked to self-isolate. What exactly does that mean?

All the panic-buying might have you quaking in your boots at the idea you’ll be shut in a room without access to anything until further notice, but the reality is quite different. Anyone who suspects they have been exposed to the virus is being asked to self-isolate, usually for around two weeks, to cover what we believe to be the incubation period for the infection. During this time, people are being asked to remain in their house and avoid contact with anyone who does not live with you. However, you can still receive takeaway and grocery deliveries, asking deliveries to be placed outside your front door to avoid a face-to-face exchange. 

Because coronavirus is a zoonotic condition (can affect both humans and animals) contact with pets should be avoided as much as possible, to safeguard their wellbeing. If it cannot be avoided, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after contact. 

Recent changes to statutory sick pay mean it will be effective from the first day of work absence, to make self-isolation more realistic and encourage people to follow self-isolation guidance.

I’m not showing symptoms and I don’t believe I’ve been exposed but I’m worried. Is there anything I can do to help make sure I don’t get coronavirus? 

Public Health England (PHE) is encouraging people to clean and disinfect all surfaces, such as keyboards, mobile phones, steering wheels and so on using normal cleaning products, and wash your hands more frequently, for at least 20 seconds, with hot water and soap. 

Since counting to 20 every time can be a bit boring, the LA Times newspaper has provided a list of songs with 20-second choruses to help you stay on track: 

  • Toto – Africa 
  • Prince – Raspberry Beret
  • Dolly Parton – Jolene
  • Lizzo – Truth Hurts
  • Eminem – Lose Yourself 
  • Beyonc√© – Love On Top 

If you cough or sneeze, try to catch it in a tissue and dispose of it immediately. Reusing a tissue significantly increases the risk of passing germs from hands to your nose or vice versa. When you can’t cough or sneeze into a tissue, the crook of your arm is the next most effective way to contain possible germs. 

Avoid touching your face. Germs can enter your body through eyes, nose, mouth or ears. Only touching these areas with clean hands reduces the risk of infection. 



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