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Coronavirus March 3 – all you need to know

Explaining the scale of the outbreak and the picture in the UK.

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(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The UK Government has drawn up a battle plan to tackle the coronavirus, which has spread from Wuhan in China to countries across the world.

Tens of thousands of people have been infected and thousands have died, with world leaders scrambling to contain the Covid-19 virus.

Here is all you need to know today.

– What is the scale of the problem?

China has reported more than 80,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths.

Outside China, there have been cases in more than 60 countries.

The first Briton to die from the virus had been on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined off the coast of Japan.

He was the sixth passenger from the ship to die after more than 700 tourists contracted coronavirus on board.

– What’s happening in the UK?

There have been 51 confirmed cases in the UK, with nearly 14,000 people tested.

HEALTH Coronavirus
Areas with confirmed cases of coronavirus. Infographic PA Graphics

The 20th case was the first transmission of coronavirus within the UK and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the original source was “unclear”.

Eight of the confirmed UK cases have been discharged from hospital. There have been no deaths.

The first diagnosed case in the Irish Republic was reported on Saturday.

– How bad could it get?

The UK Government has said that in a worst-case scenario, up to 80% of the population could become infected, with people in hospital with pneumonia and a relatively high death rate among the elderly and frail.

Scientists predict the UK would see a coronavirus peak two to three months after sustained person-to-person transmission becomes established across the country.

There will then be a further two to three months of decline, meaning an outbreak could last around four to six months.

HEALTH Coronavirus
New coronavirus cases in the UK. Infographic PA Graphics

Officials hope to delay the peak of the virus until the warmer months when health services are less busy coping with seasonal flu.

– What is the Government’s battle plan?

The 27-page document sets out the UK-wide response to Covid-19, with possible measures including the cancellation of non-urgent operations and retired NHS staff being called “back to duty”.

Possible strategies for delaying the spread of the virus include school closures, reducing the number of large-scale gatherings, and encouraging more home working.

The military could also provide support to emergency services if needed.

Other proposals include police concentrating on “serious crimes” if they lose “significant staff” to illness, helping businesses with short-term cash flow problems, and a distribution strategy for sending key medicines and equipment to NHS and social care providers.

Legislation allowing the Government to use extra powers to help control Covid-19 is expected to go through Parliament by the end of the month.

It is understood these will give schools, councils and other parts of the public sector powers to suspend laws – including health and safety measures – to cope with a pandemic.

– What is the UK Government recommending people do on returning from infected regions?

People returning from Hubei province in China, Iran, locked-down areas in northern Italy and special care zones in South Korea in the past 14 days should immediately self-isolate at home and call NHS 111.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

People returning from a number of other areas, including the rest of China and Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, should self-isolate if they develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath.

It also said those returning from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and northern Italy above Pisa should self-isolate if they show symptoms.

– What about schools?

Although several schools have closed or sent pupils home over fears of Covid-19 contact, Public Health England’s (PHE) general advice is for them not to close.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed on Tuesday that 10 had closed nationwide, but said schools should not close unless there is a positive case and the school has had advice to close from PHE.

Willow Bank School in Berkshire
Willow Bank School in Berkshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Other schools have asked pupils to self-isolate, with many having pupils return after the half-term break from skiing trips to northern Italy, an epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.

– What will happen to the economy?

The Government estimates that up to one in five workers in the UK could be off sick during a coronavirus peak.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney said policymakers are ready to help businesses and households through an economic shock caused by the virus that could “prove large but will ultimately be temporary”.

Markets around the world plunged in late February, but have since rebounded on expectations that central banks globally will cut rates to counter the impact of coronavirus.

– What about a vaccine?

Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania
Matt Dunn, a researcher for the Centre for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, with dead samples of the coronavirus (Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP)

Vaccines have been developed and researchers are starting to test them on animals, but tests can take months to see if any potential vaccine can be used on humans and there will then have to be trials on humans.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has convened a group of experts to fast-track promising tests, drugs and vaccines, but experts say it could still be months or even years before any approved treatments or vaccines are developed.

The UK Government is putting £40 million into trying to find a vaccine and also aiming to improve treatments for patients with the disease.

– What is a coronavirus?

Coronavirus
A woman wearing a face mask on the London Underground (PA)

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

The strain that has recently emerged is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans. The respiratory disease it causes has been named Covid-19 by the WHO.

– Where did it come from?

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people, the WHO says.

The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.

– How is it spread?

Hayfever/ sneezing
Coronaviruses can be spread through small droplets from the nose (PA)

The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with the virus coughs or exhales.

These droplets land on objects and surfaces and can be picked up by other people touching them then touching their nose or mouth.

– How can you stop it?

Thorough hand-washing, maintaining distance from others and avoiding handshakes are among the most effective measures for reducing the risk of catching coronavirus.

Everyday precautions like carrying hand sanitiser, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough or sneeze, rather than your hands, and binning used tissues immediately is also helpful, according to the NHS.

Boris Johnson has urged people to wash their hands to the tune of Happy Birthday.

However, after reports of people bulk buying food and clearing shelves of antibacterial gel and other supplies the Government has warned people not to panic buy.

– What are the symptoms?

Coronavirus testing laboratory
Symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath (Jane Barlow/PA)

Initial symptoms include fever, cough, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

More severe cases can cause pneumonia, Sars, sepsis and septic shock, which can lead to death.

There are no specific treatments or vaccines but symptoms can be treated.

– Can people with no symptoms spread the virus?

The jury is still out on this one, although scientists believe there is evidence of asymptomatic transmission.

The DHSC has said it believes the risk of catching coronavirus from someone with no symptoms is low, but many people with Covid-19 experience only mild symptoms, particularly during the early stages of the disease, and it is possible to catch it from them.

– Are some groups more at risk?

The UK Government says most cases appear to be mild and those who have died in Wuhan appear to have had pre-existing health conditions.

The Government’s new battle plan says the elderly and people with pre-existing illnesses would be at highest risk.

Overall around 1% of people who become infected “might end up dying” but this is “significantly” higher among people over 80, officials said.

PA