Coronavirus advice: Wash your hands and avoid hugging, kissing and hand shaking
People who are well or have no symptoms should not use masks
A spectator wears a face mask at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis ATP Championships in Dubai. Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA
With the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the world and one case now confirmed on the island of Ireland, much of the focus is on how to deal with the illness and care for the sick.
But equally important, if not more important, in what is still a containment phase is how to minimise the odds of contracting the virus and stay safe as the illness spreads.
The first and best advice is not to panic. Hysteria is a real enemy in a situation like this.
“We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it,” World Health Organisation head Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Thursday night. “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now,” he added.
There has been a huge amount of speculation about the illness, much of which is ill-informed or speculative but what we know for certain now is that the Covid-19 coronavirus is new and scientists are assessing how it spreads.
We also know that similar viruses tend to spread via cough and sneeze droplets.
That is why so-called “social distancing” will be important in the days ahead. That means you should move at least a metre away from anyone who appears ill if you can. Avoid shaking hands or hugging or kissing people as part of a greeting.
There has also been a lot of talk in recent days about face masks and alcohol based hand sanitisers but - by far - the most effective way to protect yourself is by regularly washing your hands.
At the risk of stating the obvious, a quick rinse under the tap doesn’t get rid of dangerous germs. Hands need to be vigourously washed with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds or the length of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.
Many people don’t dry their hands either which is why it is important to remember that damp actually can help germs to breed and allows them to spread more easily onto whatever you touch next.
According to advice from the HSE, in addition to hand-washing people should also use alcohol based hand sanatisers if necessary.
It is also important to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze and to put used tissues into a bin and then wash your hands again. People should not touch their eyes, nose or mouth if their hands are not clean
The HSE advice also reminds people to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
With regard to face masks the HSE advice is simple. People who are well or have no symptoms of illness should not use them. “There’s no evidence that using masks is of any benefit if you are not sick,” it says.
People who should use face masks if they have or may have coronavirus or if they are in close contact with someone who has or may have coronavirus or if they are are a healthcare worker in close contact with people who have or may have coronavirus.
According to the HSE people who work in a healthcare setting can best protect themselves by regularly washing their hands and covering their mouths and noses when coughing and sneezing.
Health care professionals dealing with cases or suspected cases of the coronavirus are being advised to wear personal protective equipment which includes a surgical face mask, a face shield or goggles, gloves and a clean, non-sterile, disposable long-sleeved gown. “If this is not available, wear a plastic apron and roll up sleeves
Irish people displayed a propensity to stockpile during the two or three days that the beast from the east made its presence felt two years ago.
Bread supplies dried up and fresh meat and dairy disappeared from supermarkets as supply chains displayed a worrying fragility.
Will something similar happen if panic about the coronavirus mounts? Possibly.
Certainly in other locations concerns over shortages have led some people to stockpile and there has been evidence of panic buying.
Already in this country all the face masks have disappeared from pharmacies and even hardware shops.
“I don’t think it is necessary, and I certainly don’t advise it,” Mark Woolhouse at the University of Edinburgh to New Scientist this week.
Jennifer Nuzzo at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Maryland told the same magazine that people should ensure they have at least three days’ food supply to hand as they are advised to do during hurricanes. “I’m not saying it’s specifically necessary in this case,” she said.
Meanwhile virology blogger Ian Mackay recommended slowly building up a “pandemic stash”.
“[BUT] don’t buy things you won’t eat later, don’t hoard and don’t buy more than you’ll need for a 2 week period,” he wrote. “We’re not talking zombie apocalypse and we very probably won’t see power or water interruptions either.”
Certainly do not stock up on prescription medicines - not only will you almost certainly not need them but you may make it harder for those that do need them to access them. Which takes us back to the start and the best advice which is don’t panic.