Sure, the World Health Organization’s has declared that coronavirus is a ‘public health emergency’.
Britain’s health secretary, Matt Hancock described the virus as a ‘serious and imminent’ threat.
But let’s not panic just yet. As of 10 February, a total of 1,114 people have been tested in the UK, of which 1,106 were confirmed negative and 8 positive (including a GP in Brighton).
On Monday Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer said ‘we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus,’ adding ‘the NHS is extremely well prepared to manage these cases and treat them.’
Phew, trusty old NHS to the rescue. But then again, with 42,000 cases identified in mainland China and new patients springing up all over the globe, now might be the time to arm yourself with some practical ways not to catch the corona – just in case.
1. Wash your hands – neurotically
Obviously, wearing a mask is your first port of call in protection. Preventing a stranger on the tube from sneezing directly into your mouth is top of your list of priorities. But what happens after you get into work and start touching the door handles, taps, and hot-desk keyboards your dirty co-workers have been smearing their germs all over?
Even without the threat of a global epidemic, as a priority we should all be washing our hands better to avoid getting ill. Public Health England (PHE) has previously warned that their researchers found faecal matter (which can cause gastrointestinal infections) on the most commonly touched surfaces including bank notes, kitchen taps and smartphone screens.
As the average person touches their face 3.6 times per hour, the virus will most likely be spread by when you touch your eyes or mouth with your contaminated hands.
But there’s a very simple fix: wash your hands. According to the NHS, proper technique is quite wet with water, then cover in soap (making sure to include the backs of your hands and between each finger), before rinsing and drying with a paper towel.
Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice – about 20 seconds. Of course, if colleagues hear you singing happy birthday to yourself in the bathroom mirror they will instantly think they’ve forgotten your birthday and buy you a cake. Winning.
2. Learn to sneeze smart
The official guidance is the ancient old proverb ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’ which demands that we carry and use tissues to catch coughs and sneezes which we discard immediately into a closed bin.
However, not only does this require you to carry tissues at every moment of your waking life, but a disposable pack of tissues doesn’t exactly scream ‘eco-friendly’.
For years now I have practised the ‘elbow crook catch’ (not a dance move). Rather than sneezing or coughing into my open palms and then smearing the contents of my infected sinuses all over the poles on the tube like the rest of you, I direct the snotty mess into my inner elbow. You may ruin a jumper or two, but your hands will remain virus free.
3. Maintain ‘social distancing’
Despite being forced up against random strangers every morning in the Tube crush, I like to try and keep my fellow Londoners at arm’s length (both emotionally and, more importantly, physically). This means that I am already in-line with the new official guidance to ‘maintain at least 1 metre distance between yourself and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.’
When someone who is infected with a respiratory disease like Coronavirus coughs or sneezes they ‘project small droplets containing the virus,’ according to Public Health England’s guidance. ‘If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.’ Quote this to anybody on public transport who invades your personal space.
Coronavirus could have an incubation period of 24 days – during which you can be symptom free. People who suspect they may have it are advised to quarantine themselves, hunkering down for two weeks solo. Good luck explaining that one to your boss.
4. Flush loos with the toilet seat down
Researchers have found small traces of coronavirus in stool samples of those being treated in Shenzhen, China.
As a result the a dirty phenomenon called the ‘toilet plume’ – the billions of tiny faecal matter particles that jet out of the loo when you flush it. Simple fix: put the toilet seat down before pulling the chain.
Oh but don’t forget: anything in the cubicle (the door handle, the flush button, the toilet brush and the bog-roll holder) are all probably equally as filthy. Be sure to employ the hand washing advice at the top of this article before leaving the lavatory. Damn, the door is a pull not a push you can kick open hands free! You’ll have to hover and wait to sneak past the next person who enters.
For the latest advice visit gov.uk/coronavirus.