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Coronavirus Facebook Q&A: Belfast Telegraph readers put their questions to experts at Queen's Medical Biological Teaching Centre

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Connor Bamford and Lyndsey Broadbent at Queen's Medical biology Centre take part in a Facebook Live Q&A with Belfast Telegraph journalist Jonathan Bell.  Pic Stephen Hamilton

Connor Bamford and Lyndsey Broadbent at Queen's Medical biology Centre take part in a Facebook Live Q&A with Belfast Telegraph journalist Jonathan Bell. Pic Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Hamilton

Connor Bamford and Lyndsey Broadbent at Queen's Medical biology Centre take part in a Facebook Live Q&A with Belfast Telegraph journalist Jonathan Bell. Pic Stephen Hamilton

In a special Facebook live broadcast for the Belfast Telegraph, virus experts Dr Lindsay Broadbent and Dr Connor Bamford answered readers' coronavirus questions.

Based at the virus study labs at Queen's University Belfast, both set the record straight on everything from face masks to vaccines and herd immunity.

What is coronavirus?

Dr Broadbent: Viruses are simply just bits of genetic material that want to replicate and infect more people.

There's actually seven different types of coronaviruses we know of that infect people.

Four of those cause the common cold and we could get infected with those year after year.

Three of them cause significant disease (including) the new coronavirus.

Why has it become a pandemic?

Dr Bamford: The reason why it has become a pandemic is because this virus can transmit between people very, very well.

We know that it's not really a human virus, it was only really recently introduced into the human population and nobody has any immunity to it, so that also allows it to spread very well. We think it comes from animals. It seemed to be localised in this Chinese wet market (a market selling fresh meat and fish), it's likely an animal was infected with this virus and it gave a human the virus.

That has allowed the virus to spread very, very efficiently.

It's just this fact that it can be transmitted really well and unfortunately it does cause severe disease.

That has allowed it to take hold in countries like China, South Korea, Iran, Italy and likely in the UK.

Why has Italy been so badly affected?

Dr Bamford: We don't really know. It could have happened to anyone, likely it will be a part of bad luck, under testing, under awareness in the population, or simply if there was more flights connecting to China.

Will there be a change of approach now it's been declared a pandemic?

Dr Broadbent: It doesn't really change anything.

The word pandemic doesn't mean anything, it's only used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) when they don't think world leaders are taking enough notice of this. It's more of a political move than a scientific move and it's really to make sure world leaders take it seriously.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Dr Bamford: The main symptoms are a sore throat, a fever, you probably wouldn't be feeling very well, quite cold-like.

You have a cough as well and this could transpire into difficulties breathing.

We know that while anybody can get infected by the virus, there's quite a big variation in the symptoms.

What happens if there's a confirmed case?

Dr Broadbent: If your symptoms are mild, you're asked to self-isolate.

Your family may also have to self-isolate if you live with people. Then you're basically told to keep a good eye on your symptoms.

If you start to experience shortness of breath, struggling to breathe, that's when you have to get back in touch with 111. If it becomes an emergency situation and you're incredibly struggling to breathe then that's when you ring the ambulance and you have to make sure you tell them you tested positive.

How can you prevent the spread?

Dr Broadbent: People are probably sick of hearing it, but they do need to practise good hand hygiene, washing your hands, avoiding touching your face is really important.

What is herd immunity?

Dr Bamford: The idea is that if you are infected (and build up an immunity), there will be a period afterwards where you cannot be infected.

For it to have a real effect, you would need a sizeable amount of the population to be infected, probably 50%.

That will lead to a considerable number of deaths, so I think that really isn't (a good way) of stopping the virus.

The best way to get herd immunity is through a vaccine.

Are face masks useless?

Dr Bamford: Face masks aren't recommended. (They) aren't completely useless because surgeons wear them, dentists wear them.

But they're under very controlled conditions, so it's not really recommended (for the) public to wear them.

How long will it take for a vaccine to be available?

Dr Broadbent: There are several tests that need to be done before they can made public. The fastest that could really happen is a year to 18 months. If that does happen, that would be remarkable.

Is the media coverage balanced? How concerned should we be?

Dr Broadbent: I think we do have to be concerned, we're in uncharted territory here.

This is an entirely new situation... so I understand why the press want to keep covering this to keep everyone up to date.

I know there is some press that might be labelled as fear-mongering, which isn't great, but for the majority, this will be a very mild illness.

We need to try and make sure the people that catch this virus are young and healthy and can deal with it and we protect our vulnerable people.

Should there be an all-island approach to containing the virus?

Dr Bamford: What the Taoiseach recommended is what is being recommended from the World Health Organisation, so he didn't say anything that wasn't sensible.

I think the UK will have to take that approach at some time, it's a question of when, not if.

Belfast Telegraph