Health and Healthcare Systems

Coronavirus – here’s the public health advice on how to protect yourself

A woman wears a face mask and plastic raincoat as a protection from coronavirus at Shanghai railway station, in Shanghai, China February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2E2F9KBNMV

What do the experts say on protecting yourself effectively? Image: REUTERS/Aly Song

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Global Health

Last updated: 16 April, 2020.

  • There have been more than 2 million confirmed cornavirus cases worldwide.
  • The World Health Organization has warned that alcohol consumption could increase health risks for a person who becomes infected with the virus.
  • Elderly and vulnerable most at risk of developing serious illness.

Most people who have caught the COVID-19 coronavirus suffer little more than mild illness from which they soon recover. But for some – particularly the elderly and patients with existing health conditions – the consequences can be more severe.

Have you read?

COVID-19 can be transmitted by people with the virus coughing or sneezing, releasing tiny contaminated droplets into the air, putting anyone within range in danger of inhaling them. These droplets can travel more than a metre from the infected person, allowing them to settle on any surfaces ready to be transferred to anyone that touches the surface.

The virus can live on some surfaces for several days. Data from the 2003 SARS outbreak, which was a similar illness to the latest coronavirus, showed the virus could contaminate plastered walls for up to a day and a half, plastic and stainless steel for 72 hours, and glass for 96 hours. So it’s likely the mobile phone, tablet or computer screen you are reading this on could harbour COVID-19 for up to four days, and be transferred to anyone touching the screen.

Adopting good hygiene is one of the most effective weapons to slow or prevent the virus spreading. Here are six things you can do to protect yourself and others.


1. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

Our hands touch door handles, keyboards, taps and numerous other surfaces, so the virus could easily be picked up this way. Rubbing tired eyes or touching your nose or mouth could transfer the virus from your hands into your body.

2. Wash your hands regularly

Clean your hands thoroughly and often, using plenty of soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub to kill any virus on your hands. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure you clean fingers, thumbs and palms.

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3. Practise respiratory hygiene


If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue and throw it in the trash afterwards. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into the crook of your arm instead of using your hand. If possible, avoid coughing or sneezing near other people.

4. Maintain social distancing

Be aware of people around you and keep your distance from anyone coughing or sneezing. Stay at least 1 metre away to prevent inhaling the small liquid droplets sprayed by coughs and sneezes.

COVID-19 coronavirus avoid handshaking
Stop shaking hands. Image: WHO


5. If any symptoms develop, seek medical care early

Stay at home if you feel unwell, and if you develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing seek medical attention. Call in advance of your visit, and follow the advice of your local health provider – they will have the most up-to-date information on the situation in your area.

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6. Stay informed

Accurate information about COVID-19 and its spread is essential. But beware, because there is a lot of misinformation, scaremongering and fake news floating around on social media that can hamper efforts to contain the virus.

The latest information is available by visiting trusted sources like the World Health Organization’s (WHO) information page.

Newly emerging public health guidance

As the global crisis develops, so does the health advice. Here are some newer tips:

Drinking and smoking

The WHO has warned about the risks of alcohol consumption, with it likely to "increase the health risks if a person becomes infected with the virus." The agency also warns about the negative effect of alcohol on immune systems.

Additionally, it says there's a risk from smoking. Both through the increased risk of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth as well as smoking's impact on the lungs.

Pregnancy

The UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says there is no additional risk to pregnant women or their babies:

"Pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop coronavirus than the general population. As this is a new virus, how it may affect you is not yet clear. It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms...

"There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk of miscarriage. There is also no evidence that the virus can pass to your developing baby while you are pregnant (this is called vertical transmission). It is therefore considered unlikely that if you have the virus it will cause abnormalities in your baby."

Schools and workplaces

With many schools, workplaces and institutions closing around the world, the WHO has released guidance for how to prepare and communicate with people in those different settings.

Mental health

The WHO tells us to remember that the COVID-19 outbreak will have psychological as well as physical impacts. Here are its tips on coping:

How to cope with stress during 2019-nCoV outbreak
Dealing with stress caused by COVID-19 outbreak. Image: WHO
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