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What does the Coronavirus outbreak mean for you?

At the end of December 2019, the World Health Organization was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. This virus was identified as a new Coronavirus called COVID-19 (previously referred to as 2019-nCOV), which is part of the Coronavirus family of viruses that include the common cold, as well as SARS and MERS viruses.

By the end of January, it was reported that more than 7,000 people had been sickened by the virus and by mid-March, this had grown to over 200,000 reported cases in 166 countries/territories around the world, with the outbreak being declared a pandemic on 12th March.

Scientists around the world continue to discover more about the transmissibility, severity and restriction of the COVID-19, but until we know more, we would encourage you to adopt and promote effective hygiene behaviours that are proven to be effective against the spread of viruses.

How is COVID-19 transmitted and how contagious is it?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. Similar to other respiratory viruses, transmission occurs via droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes or even exhales. These droplets land on surfaces and are picked up on the hands of others and spread further. People catch the virus when they touch their infected hands to their mouth, nose or eyes. Additionally, COVID-19 can be spread if people breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

For confirmed COVID-19 infections, reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe, but have included: fever, cough and shortness of breath. It is reported that symptoms could appear as long as 14 days after exposure. Some people also experience mild aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. It has also been observed that some infected individuals don’t develop any symptoms and don't even feel ill. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

Should you take special precautions?

Many countries now have special measures in place regarding ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’. It is recommended that you keep aware by observing the WHO website and your national and the local public health authority for current information.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent contracting COVID-19, however you can can take certain steps to reduce your chances of infection:

  • Practicing regular good hand hygiene using soap and water, and the use of an alcohol-based hand rub solution (e.g. hand sanitiser) is beneficial in helping prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses. This is of particular importance when travelling or working in heavily populated areas such as airports, schools, hospitals etc. If you work in such an environment, it may be prudent to enhance existing hygiene control arrangements.
  • We also suggest using signage to increase the awareness of handwashing at this time - for example posters at critical areas; washrooms, kitchen and eating spaces; implement additional hand sanitiser stations; and increase washroom checks to ensure that hand soap and hand drying facilities are maintained and always available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth - Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses that can be transferred to your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Follow good respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze, making sure you dispose of the tissue immediately after use - then wash your hands thoroughly and ensure they are completely dry.
  • Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing to avoid coming into contact with infected droplets from coughs and sneezes.

Viral testing with this novel Coronavirus against commercially available products has not yet been carried out due to the availability of the virus to test against - current claims against coronaviruses will relate to that of ‘enveloped viruses’ (viruses with an outer layer at the stage of their life-cycle when they are between host cells) and coronavirus substitutes.

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

Please note that there is no currently approved vaccine against COVID-19 although several trials are currently in progress. Antibiotics are not effective in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 as they only work on bacterial infections.

Some western, traditional or home remedies may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19, there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

Authorities in China and some other countries have succeeded in slowing or stopping their outbreaks. However, the situation is unpredictable so check regularly for the latest news.

Will I be putting myself at risk if I travel?

We recommend that you check with your national authorities for travel advice on whether to travel to a country affected by COVID-19 outbreak and other health information, including access to healthcare for reasons other than COVID-19. Many countries now have robust travel restrictions in place, so you will also benefit from checking with the national authorities in your destination country.

What is the most effective method for hand washing?

Good hand washing and drying practices as recommended by the WHO - with soap and water - are still the number one way to prevent infectious diseases.

Soap works better than alcohol, sanitisers or disinfectants to destroy viruses, because soap contains fat-like molecules known as amphiphiles. Some amphiphile molecules are structurally similar to the fatty membrane which holds a virus together. These similarities make the soap amphiphiles compete with the fat molecules in the virus membrane. This dissolves the membrane holding the virus together, causing the virus to fall apart and become inactive.

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water following the following stages:

    a. Hand washing (40-60 sec): wet hands and apply soap; rub all surfaces; rinse hands and dry thoroughly with a single-use towel, use towel to turn off faucet.
    b. Using an alcohol-based formulation, rub hands for 20-30 seconds: apply enough product to cover all areas of the hands; rub the surfaces until dry.

  2. Clean your hands by rubbing them with an alcohol-based formulation if you are not able to access soap and water, ensuring you follow the same techniques you would with soap and water. Rub thoroughly until all of the sanitiser has been absorbed.

Further information will be provided through regular updates to this page, so please check back or bookmark this page. Alternatively, you can keep up-to-date with country-specific guidance and the current recommendations from dedicated websites for the WHO and the CDC.

Until such time that COVID-19 is scientifically understood, you may wish to download our leaflet on Recommended hand hygiene steps to prevent the spread of viruses.