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2,700 recorded deaths in more than 80,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19

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People wearing masks in China Town, London, as two people in the UK have tested positive for Coronavirus (Victoria Jones/PA)

People wearing masks in China Town, London, as two people in the UK have tested positive for Coronavirus (Victoria Jones/PA)

People wearing masks in China Town, London, as two people in the UK have tested positive for Coronavirus (Victoria Jones/PA)

The total number of people infected worldwide by coronavirus has now risen above 80,000, with 2,700 recorded deaths.

So far, 13 patients in the UK have tested positive for the virus.

Chief medical officers have raised the risk level from low to moderate for the illness, which currently has no known cure or vaccine.

Yesterday, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Americans to begin preparing for the flu-like virus.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

While it is not known when the virus will arrive in the country, the CDC's head of respiratory diseases warned that "disruption to everyday life might be severe".

But how concerned should the public be about contracting the airborne illness, which is transmitted human-to-human, and are there practical steps you can take, like wearing a face mask, to reduce your risk?

Surgical masks were first introduced into hospitals in the late 1700s, but they did not make the transition into public use until the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919.

The masks are designed for use in a clinical setting, where they are primarily meant for preventing visible sprays or splashes of fluid.

The demand for surgical face masks in China has reached a 200m masks a day, reports Reuters.

Images on social media show vast numbers wearing them in public and in transport hubs such as airports and train stations where there are large crowds.

The virus has also led to an influx in YouTube tutorial videos showing people how to make their own masks.

In the UK, although this is less visible, people are also investing in masks as high-street pharmacy Boots reports selling out of their six-pack of "safe and sound" surgical face masks. Amazon has also sold out of a product listed as anti-virus flu masks.

Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections at Public Health England, said there was "very little evidence of a widespread benefit" in members of the public wearing masks.

"Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective," he said.

Most of the paper options being worn do not have a respirator to filter out infectious air particles. If they are not worn properly and are loose, it means that bacteria can easily access the nose and mouth. Experts have also warned coronavirus could enter the body through the eyes.

Even when users do comply with these rules initially, research shows if users wear them for long periods of time, they gradually become slack and are less likely to work properly.

A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases found compliance with proper mask use was less than 50%, meaning half the people in the study did not keep wearing them as directed.


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