‘Stop hugging and kissing to halt the coronavirus’: Avoiding close contact with ‘British standoffishness’ is the best way to beat the contagious illness, virologist claims
- John Oxford, Professor of Queen Mary University, warned against close contact
- Said bit of ‘British standoffishness’ was needed to curb the spread of virus in UK
- The epidemic has so far killed more than 1,100 people and infected over 45,000
- Do you have a coronavirus story? Email [email protected] or call 0203 615 0203
A scientist has warned people should avoid hugging and kissing in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Professor John Oxford, from Queen Mary University, said people could protect themselves from the deadly bug by employing a bit of ‘British standoffishness’.
Commenting just days before Valentine’s Day, Professor Oxford described the illness as a ‘social virus’ that relies on lots of close contact between people and said it could be defeated by cutting contact off.
The SARS-CoV-2, as its now officially known, spreads via droplets in someone’s breath and can survive on inanimate objects for hours and stay contagious.
It has killed more than 1,100 people, all but two of whom are in China, and struck down almost 46,000 worldwide – eight cases have been confirmed in Britain.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Oxford said: ‘I think we have to galvanise ourselves in our social actions – how we interact with people I think that is extremely important; more so than wearing a mask. I think that’s a total diversion.
‘What we need to do is less of the handshaking, hugging, kissing, that sort of thing, because this virus looks like its spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily colds and coughing.’
People are being warned to stop hugging and kissing over Valentine’s Day in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, a top British virologist has warned. Pictured: A Chinese man puts on latex gloves for protection as he arrives from a train at Beijing
Professor John Oxford, Professor of Queen Mary University, said Britons could be protected from the deadly bug by using a bit of ‘British standoffishness’. Pictured: A security officer in a protective mask checks the temperature of a passenger in Xianning in Hubei province
While cases have remained low in the UK so far, with just eight tests coming back positive, experts expect more infections in the coming weeks.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said Britain is probably only picking up ‘one in three cases’ coming into the country at the moment.
He believes there are many more infected people living in the UK unwittingly passing it on to others.
Professor Ferguson said in a worst-case scenario, 60 per cent of the entire population could become infected – around six million Britons.
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – 1,116 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Some people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries all over the world have banned foreign travellers from crossing their borders if they have been to China within the past two weeks. Many airlines have cancelled or drastically reduced flights to and from mainland China.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
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He told The Telegraph: ‘Surveillance has started in hospitals across the UK of pneumonia cases, that will give us a proper picture.
‘Our best estimate is that transmission in the UK will get going in the next few weeks; unless we are very lucky probably peaking two to three months after that.
‘If it truly establishes itself in terms of true person to person transmission it will behave like a flu pandemic maybe up to 60 per cent of the population being affected but most of those people having very mild symptoms.’
The comments come as health officials in the UK scramble to track down dozens of people who have come into contact with Britain’s eight confirmed coronavirus patients – including the Brighton ‘super-spreader’ thought to have infected 11 others.
Scout leader Steve Walsh, 53, has left the isolation unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London after picking up the disease at a Singapore gas conference last month and inadvertently spreading it on his 6,736-mile journey home to Hove via the Alps.
The father-of-two gas sales executive has been reunited with his wife and two children in East Sussex, who have been in self-quarantine since he tested positive for the killer virus last week.
He said today: ‘I’m happy to be home and feeling well. I want to give a big thank you to the NHS who have been great throughout and my thoughts are with everyone around the world who continues to be affected by the virus. It’s good to be back with my family’.
Mr Walsh decided to reveal his identity yesterday after inadvertently putting Brighton at the centre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis after four people on his ski holiday – including at least two doctors – also tested positive.
Eleven schools in the Brighton area – including one attended by his two children – have been put on lockdown after staff and pupils have been told to quarantine at home.
A care home has also been sealed off to visitors after a doctor who went there was later diagnosed with the virus, and more than a dozen GP surgeries have been closed this week for deep cleaning – amid fears staff may have caught it.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director, said: ‘I’m pleased to say that – following two negative tests for coronavirus, twenty-four hours apart – Mr Walsh has been discharged from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, having made a full recovery following his treatment.
‘Mr Walsh’s symptoms were mild and he is no longer contagious, and poses no risk to the public.’
Professor Willett added: ‘He is keen to return to his normal life and spend time with his family out of the media spotlight.
‘I would like to thank the clinical team who treated Mr Walsh in hospital, as well as all the NHS staff who are working hard with other health organisations to limit the spread of coronavirus and treat the small numbers who have contracted the illness. Anyone with any health concerns should contact NHS 111.’
Father-of-two sales executive Mr Walsh was released from quarantine in a London hospital today after picking up the disease at a Singapore gas conference
Stephen Walsh, 53, inadvertently brought coronavirus to the UK having attended a conference in Singapore. Health officials told people he had been in contact with to ‘self-isolate’
Today, Mr Walsh’s next-door neighbour of 15 years said the father of two is ‘feeling fine’ but feels concerned about how he will be perceived.
‘I’ve spoken to his wife Cathy directly and to Steve by email and they are absolutely terrified of being made scapegoats for all this which would be totally unfair,’ Ian Henshall, a 59-year-old author, told The Mirror.
‘He acted as quickly as he possibly could as soon as he got ill. They are a lovely family. He is feeling fine now and Cathy is hoping he will be able to leave isolation and come home soon. They are just obviously very concerned about being made scapegoats in all this.’
It came as 11 schools in Brighton were put on lockdown after staff and pupils went into quarantine at home – including one across the street from the County Oak Medical Centre, which was shut down for a deep clean.
Dr Catriona Greenwood, currently in a London hospital receiving treatment for the killer virus, worked a locum shift at the surgery last week before she was diagnosed.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEADLY CORONAVIRUS IN CHINA?
Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.
At least 1,116 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 45,200 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.
By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.
By February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to more than 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus has almost certainly come from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent similar to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has so far killed 1,116 people out of a total of at least 45,207 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to that date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed, but also far more widespread.
Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak is an epidemic, which is when a disease takes hold of one community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the outbreak is not yet classed as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
The head of WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘Currently we are not in a pandemic. We are at the phase where it is an epidemic with multiple foci, and we try to extinguish the transmission in each of these foci,’ the Guardian reported.
She said that most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.
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