Coronavirus

Covid-19: everything you need to know about coronavirus

No. 10 hopes to hit 100,000 tests per day this week

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The new coronavirus, which causes Covid-19, has infected more than three million people around the world and killed more than 214,000, according to the latest figures.

Lockdown measures have been introduced worldwide in an effort to curb the spread of the disease, and normal life and freedoms have been suspended for many.

Some European countries have started the process of easing restrictions, but for the time being, Britain remains under lockdown rules.

Here is everything you need to know about the outbreak.

What has happened in the past 24 hours?

The UK government has extended testing to millions more people in England from today, after loosening rules on who can apply.

The government hopes to hit its target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day by Thursday, with just over 43,000 taking place as of Monday.

The expansion means 25 million people can now book through the government's test-booking website, said testing coordinator professor John Newton.

Meanwhile, cabinet ministers have been unable to explain away findings by BBC Panorama that there were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government's pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK.

This was despite the fact that, as far back as June 2019, the government was advised by its expert committee on pandemics to purchase gowns.

The US has confirmed one million cases of coronavirus, making up almost a third of the total recorded cases around the world. The country has now suffered more than 58,000 deaths, bringing the American death toll higher than that of the Vietnam War.

Vice President Mike Pence was pictured touring a health clinic in Minnesota without a face-covering, despite there being a mask rule in place. He was the only person not to wear a mask during the tour.

The UK government has defended its decision not to recommend the use of face masks in public, despite the Scottish government making the recommendation.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the proposal could lead to further shortages.

The Week’s latest coronavirus briefings
How did the new coronavirus start?

The new coronavirus appears to have originated in a market in Wuhan, China, where live wild animals including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats and snakes are traded.

The Daily Telegraph explains that such markets pose a “heightened risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans” because hygiene standards are “difficult to maintain if live animals are being kept and butchered on site”.

“Although an initial analysis of the virus that causes Covid-19 suggested it was similar to viruses seen in snakes, the hunt for the animal source of Covid-19 is still on,” says Wired. Bats and pangolins have also been suggested as the origin animal.

On 31 December, WHO received the first reports of a previously unknown virus.

The Wuhan market was shut down for inspection and cleaning on 1 January, but it appears the virus was already starting to spread beyond the market itself. Wired adds that some early cases of Covid-19 appeared to be people with no link to the market, suggesting the infection might have even pre-dated the market cases.

Read more here.

What are the symptoms?

According to the NHS and WHO, symptoms usually include:

  • A cough and/or sore throat
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling tired
  • Difficulty breathing

The NHS has warned that anyone who has a high temperature and/or a new, continuous cough must remain at home.

Read more here.

What should I do if I have symptoms?

UK government advice is that those with the above symptoms should self-isolate for seven days.

Isolating or self-quarantining essentially means staying at home and limiting non-essential contact with anyone who does not live with you. The NHS suggests asking friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food and supplies, and advises against having visitors in your home.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you will need to stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms, says the NHS. However, the government says that the person who first had symptoms can stop self-isolating after seven days.

What can you do in quarantine?

Ideas to make the most of your time at home include learning a language, writing a journal and reading a long novel.

Learn a new language: Many of us would love to learn a new language but have never had the time – until now. Give it a go with the help of apps such as Memrise, LinguaLift and Duolingo.

Keep a diary: The daily practice of noting down your thoughts may help you bring structure to a strange time and deal with any stress – and there might even be wider benefits. Samuel Pepys’s diary of the Great Fire of London became an important historical document, so perhaps future generations may study your experiences of a coronavirus lockdown?

Read a long novel: From epics such as War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Ulysses by James Joyce, to challenging tomes such as A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift or almost anything by Will Self, now is your chance to read those books that have been gathering dust on your shelves. Then boast about it to your followers on social media.

Get more ideas here.

What is the UK government doing?

The government is advising everyone in the UK to avoid “non-essential” travel and social contact. Gatherings of more than two people from the same household have been banned, while pubs, clubs and theatres have been forced to close their doors. People are being asked to work from home where possible.

Individuals have been asked to leave their homes just once a day for exercise or to pick up essential shopping. Police are to be granted power to enforce the strict quarantine rules.

Those in the most at-risk groups – including over-70s – have been asked to stay at home for 12 weeks, and officials says all “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes must stop.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled financial aid for the self-employed, as well as furloughed and laid-off employees.

And the government has promised £330bn of government backed loans to businesses, equivalent to 15% of GDP.

Read more about the contain, delay, mitigate strategy here.

What should I do if I have travelled?

The UK government is advising everyone to stop “non-essential” travel.

Many countries are now requiring visitors to quarantine for 14 days on arrival, and others – such as the US – are stopping any foreign visitors from entering the country.

“If the local authority where you are proposes to quarantine you for your own protection, you should follow their advice,” says UK government guidance.

Anyone returning to the UK with symptoms, who believes they have come into contact with the virus, should use the online 111 coronavirus service. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

Read more here.

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How will it end?

It is theoretically possible that the new strain of coronavirus might mutate into a less infectious version of itself, and the problem might just go away of its own accord, says Live Science. This is essentially what happened to the Sars outbreak of 2002.

It is also possible that the spread of the virus might be limited once people acquire immunity. People gain immunity to diseases after being exposed to them, whether through vaccination or organic transmission.

Once enough people are immune to a disease, it will stop circulating through the population – this is called “herd immunity”.

Studies carried out on coronavirus cases so far suggest that around 80% of people with the virus develop “mild” symptoms, while 5% experience “critical” symptoms, including respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure. About 2.3% of infections lead to death.

If 60% of the UK population, which equates to almost 44 million people, were to become infected, that 2.3% mortality rate would see around 910,000 deaths as the virus spreads far enough to lead to herd immunity – unless cocooning the most vulnerable people substantially reduces the death rate.

Economists Gerard Lyons, who served under Johnson while he was mayor of London, and Paul Ormerod, have published a paper setting out a three-stage “traffic-light route” to return the UK to normal life after the lockdown.

“We would go, first, from lockdown to red, where we must still stop doing things we might have done before the crisis. Then to amber, as conditions improve, but we still need to be careful. Eventually, back to green, when medical experts can give the all-clear,” say Lyons and Ormerod.

The “most uncomfortable answer”, says Vox, is that the Covid-19 virus will never go away. It could become endemic in the human population, like the common cold.

Read more on how it will end here and herd immunity here.

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