Arm yourself with facts and official guidelines as news about coronavirus unfolds.

Whether coronavirus becomes a global pandemic or whether it can be contained, it remains, at present, undeniably concerning, with the World Health Organisation having raised the global threat level to ‘very high’.

It is, then, not a time for panic or alarmism, but for cool practicality and sensible, simple measures to each do what we can to avoid its spread. To that end, we have rounded up the most useful resources and official guidelines, chiefly from the government and the NHS, to help sort fact from hearsay.

The government’s page dedicated to the outbreak of coronavirus was first set up on 24 January, and is constantly being updated as news emerges. Rather that gleaning information from newspapers, this excellent resource reports the facts only. Visit to find information on what exactly coronavirus is, as well as the risk level and what action to take if you believe you may have symptoms.

At the time of writing, the UK Chef Medical Officers advised returning travellers from Hubei province in China, Iran and special care zones in South Korea to stay indoors, even if they do not have symptoms. Travellers returning from other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild) are advised to stay indoors, as are those with symptoms (however mild) who have returned from northern Italy (north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February. All at-risk patients are warned not to go to their GPs. The site confirms thirty-five UK cases of coronavirus. Do check back here with some regularity as the situation changes and unfolds. There is also information about the government’s response to the situation.

The NHS’s page on coronavirus gives a simple and easily digestible overview of the virus, from its symptoms and how it is spread to the risks of it in the UK (which, at the time of writing, the UK Chief Medical Officers had raised from low to moderate). There is a link detailing travel advice and, crucially, advice for avoiding catching or spreading germs. These include covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough; binning used tissues immediately; washing hands with soap and water frequently (using hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable); avoiding contact with those who are unwell; and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. You are advised not to go the GP if you suspect symptoms, but to call 111, or take the online questionnaire.

World Health Organisation
The WHO’s coronavirus page advises checking back daily for information on the coronavirus, which was first reported in China on 31 December. As opposed to the NHS or the government’s guidelines, this site details rolling news stories pertaining to the virus, with situation reports and disease outbreak news, both of which are being updated constantly.
The latest news stories unfolding on the site at the time of writing were that the UN had released US $15 million to help vulnerable countries, and WHO Director-General’s remarks at a media briefing on 28 February. His words gave an excellent overview of the situation. He said: ‘First, as usual, the numbers: In the past 24 hours, China reported 329 cases – the lowest in more than a month. As of 6am Geneva time this morning, China has reported a total of 78,959 cases of COVID-19 to WHO, including 2791 deaths. Outside China, there are now 4351 cases in 49 countries, and 67 deaths. Since yesterday, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and Nigeria have all reported their first cases. All these cases have links to Italy. Twenty-four cases have been exported from Italy to fourteen countries, and 97 cases have been exported from Iran to eleven countries. The continued increase in the number of cases, and the number of affected countries over the last few days, are clearly of concern. Our epidemiologists have been monitoring these developments continuously, and we have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at a global level. What we see at the moment are linked epidemics of COVID-19 in several countries, but most cases can still be traced to known contacts or clusters of cases. We do not see evidence as yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities.’


For those who wish to learn about the science behind the virus in layman’s terms, this AsapScience video is a great place to start. Canadian YouTubers, Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, who met while studying at The University of Guelph, post on all sorts of popular science topics. Here they take a look at what the virus actually does to your body once it has entered the system. Interesting, informative and a quick way to deepen your understanding of the science behind the headlines.

NHS Hand-Washing Video

Now, you might think that you’re familiar with how to wash your hands – a practice that most of us make a habit of several times daily. But not all hand-washing techniques are created equal, and since this simple measure is the most effective protection we currently have against coronavirus, it is worth reminding ourselves to be thorough. This instructional video footage shows exactly how – and how long for – we should be scrubbing our hands clean. There is also a great video aimed at children, with a catchy song to help them get in the habit. It takes seconds to watch and we advise that you do.

BBC News
If you have been advised to self-isolate as a returning traveller an affected area, or as someone who has been in close contact with a person confirmed to have the virus, what next? BBC News’ informational page on the matter is very helpful and clear. As with other resources, it reiterates that you should call 111 and refrain from visiting your GP. Taking its information from the government’s advice for self-isolation page its guidance is to remain at home for fourteen days, taking delivery of necessary groceries which are to be left on the doorstep. If you are awaiting results of tests for COVID-19, the official advice is also to remain at home. If you share living quarters with other (unaffected) people, you should separate yourself and stay in a well-ventilated room with a window, keeping the door closed. You should even try to keep away from your pets, and if this is impossible, you’re advised to wash your hands before and after contact. There is also guidance as to whether those who’ve been advised to self-isolate are entitled to sick leave (yes, for most employed people regardless of contracts; no for the self-employed).

Huffington Post
Coronavirus is big news and as with any sudden global threat to health, there are conflicting voices and advice out there, especially through media channels. The Huffington Post reports on a conversation that took place on the Today Programme (BBC Radio 4) in which John Oxford, an emeritus professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London dismissed wearing masks but was a proponent of avoiding all forms of physical contact. He said: ‘What we need to do is less of the hand-shaking, hugging, kissing and all that sort of a thing because this virus looks like it’s spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily sneezing and coughing.’ His views did not go unchallenged. Neil Ferguson, director of MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College remarked: ‘I think the measures John talked about may have some potential to slow spread down, move us out of the winter flu season, release NHS pressures a bit, but I think it’s highly unlikely we will stop transmission of the virus.’ He added: ‘I think we’re in the early phases of a global pandemic at the moment.’

The Guardian
If you have heard a slew of conspiracy theories about coronavirus – did the US created the virus to wage war on China?; is it a plot of destabilise Iran? – this is a good article, not so much for debunking them myth-by-myth which it doesn’t concern itself with, but for addressing the wider dangers of such theories in the age of the internet and their power to diminish political accountability. Rumours plus powerful platforms upon which to spread them are a recipe for fear, panic and suspicion. As this article suggests, do resist them.

By Nancy Alsop
March 2020


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