The novel Coronavirus strain COVID-19 that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan has devastated the world. At the time of writing, the number of cases confirmed worldwide is currently 4.26 million with as many as 292,000 deaths confirmed. 

The first cases of Coronavirus in the UK were confirmed on January 31st. At the time of writing, there are now almost a quarter of a million confirmed cases in the UK. 32,692 people have sadly died. 

The infection is dominating news headlines, but what do you know about the Coronavirus outbreak? 

We spoke to Clinical Lead, Dr Daniel Atkinson about the virus and its severity.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illness. These illnesses can be relatively straightforward like the common cold so many of us will experience around this time of the year, or it can lead to a more severe illness. 

Previous Coronavirus outbreaks have included the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, but the current strain of virus is called COVID-19. Its epicentre is Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China, home to roughly 11 million people. This virus is believed to have originated in a ‘wet’ market in the city - where pieces of meat are sold, as well as live animals. Reports have suggested this infection may have originated from a snake or a bat. 

How does it spread?

The virus is meant to have spread from an animal to a human initially, but as the virus continues to spread at a rapid rate, it’s clear that the virus is spreading between human to human. How exactly this has come to be is currently unclear, as is the ease of spreading the virus. 

If COVID-19 is like the Sars virus, it could be spread through coughs and sneezes which is why it’s important to cover your mouth and nose if you are unwell, and to wash your hands thoroughly after coughing or sneezing. 

What are the symptoms of Coronavirus? 

The symptoms are similar to flu-like symptoms. The incubation period, where those are likely to spread the virus without the symptoms being obvious, can last anywhere between two and 14 days, as per differing reports.

Those infected with COVID-19 start with a fever - which is why those travelling in China have been pictured having their temperature taken electronically - and a dry cough. These symptoms are typical for a common cold. However, roughly a week after these symptoms set in, patients have experienced a shortness of breath and have needed medical assistance. 

Does anyone in the UK have Coronavirus?

At the time of writing, on the 30th January, 2020, 1,391 cases had been confirmed within the UK. That number has now grown exponentially. 

In order to contain the virus, residents were initially flown back to the UK from China, and kept under quarantine. International travel has been banned, sporting and entertainment events have been cancelled or rescheduled, and educational facilities have closed or moved to online classes.

Can I still buy stuff from China online? Or can this spread the virus?

Yes, you can still buy items from online stores based in China. It’s unlikely the virus would live so long on the surface of a box or item, and it has not currently been determined whether COVID-19 can be spread on contaminated surfaces. It seems more likely that in order for the virus to spread, an infected person would need to be in close proximity with someone else. 

Can I still travel to China?

At the time of writing, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have advised against 'all but essential' travel to mainland China as the virus continues to spread.

Airlines have also suspended flights between the UK and China. If you are due to travel to China in the near future, you should seek further information. Additionally, travel has been reduced or suspended to a number of countries in the wake of the pandemic. It is advised to check with Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the relevant airline if you're due to travel in the coming weeks. 

How can I make sure I don’t get the Coronavirus?

Hygiene is incredibly important to ward off any viruses. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly - for at least 20 seconds - catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue and dispose of it immediately. Limit your contact with people and keep your distance to at least two metres from other people when you do go out.

If you are displaying symptoms such as a high temperature, a dry cough and fatigue, you should self-isolate. Self-isolation typically lasts seven days if you are feeling better and your temperature normalises. During self-isolation, you should not go out, even for a walk - if you need to get groceries or medication, you should ask someone else to obtain and deliver these to you. 

If you live with other people they should self isolate for 14 days from the onset of your original symptoms.

Can I get tested for the Coronavirus? 

Yes, you can get tested if you have coronavirus symptoms. 

Details of how to arrange a test can be found on the NHS website.

For some, choosing to seek out a private test can be more convenient. However, it’s important to be careful when buying private coronavirus tests online. Some online providers may sell fake, illicit or illegal tests. 

Currently, two types of COVID-19 tests are approved for us and distribution in the UK. 

The first test to be approved was the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test, which screens for current infection in patients. After purchasing, a ‘kit’ is sent to the patient. They are required to collect a sample using a swab from their throat, at home, and return to our UK pathology lab. 

The second test, approved on the 30th April 2020, is the coronavirus antibody test, which screens for previous infection. The patient must take a blood sample at home, using a finger-pricking lancet. Once returned to our partner lab, the sample is screened to detect SARS-CoV-19 antibodies. If the patient tests positive, this means antibodies have been detected and they have contracted the virus at some point. 

The COVID-19 antibody test is over 99% accurate, conditional on samples being collected correctly and at least two weeks having passed since the patient first noticed symptoms.

Because the full extent and duration of immunity in relation to the virus is still being explored, and not yet fully understood, people who test positive for coronavirus antibodies should still abide by social distancing guidance provided by the government.