The new coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading fast. More than 102,000 people are known to be infected, and more than 3,400 deaths have been recorded worldwide.
The bulk of new cases being recorded each day are now outside China, and the virus is spreading at some speed across Europe.
There have now been 206 confirmed cases in the UK. Two of these patients have died. More than 21,400 people have now been tested in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Experts have been warning for years that the world is overdue a major disease outbreak, but there is much that individuals can do to protect themselves and others.
This practical guide is designed to keep you safe and will be updated daily. It is underpinned with advice from leading experts in the NHS and beyond.
1. What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the jump to humans, but most just cause common cold-like symptoms.
Two coronaviruses - Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) - are much more severe, having killed more than 1,500 people between them since 2002.
The new virus, officially known as Covid-19, is also more dangerous than the common cold. So far, around 15 to 20 per cent of hospital cases have been classed as "severe" and the current death rate varies between 0.7 per cent and 3.4 per cent depending on the location and, crucially, access to good hospital care.
This is much lower than Mers (30 per cent) or Sars (10 per cent), but still a significant threat.
Scientists in China believe that Covid-19 has mutated into two strains, one more aggressive than the other, which could make developing a vaccine more complicated.
2. What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main symptoms of the coronavirus usually include:
- A dry cough
- A temperature
- Shortness of breath (in more severe cases)
Some patients may have "aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea", the WHO adds. "These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don't develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell".
These symptoms are similar to other respiratory diseases including flu and the common cold. So if you have symptoms, consider the following:
- Have you travelled to a high risk area such as China, South Korea, Iran or Northern Italy in the last two weeks?
- Have you been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
3. How quickly do symptoms emerge?
Symptoms are thought to appear between two and 10 days after contracting the virus, but it may be up to 24 days.
Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. However, around one out of every six people (16 per cent) becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.
Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems, lung complaints or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
4. When should I seek medical help?
People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention quickly.
But you should not go out. Instead, you should call NHS 111. Also call NHS 111 if:
- you think you might have coronavirus
- in the last 14 days you've been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus
- you've been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
5. How to 'self quarantine' if you think you might have coronavirus
If you think you may have the virus, you should try to isolate or quarantine yourself.
This means you should:
- Stay at home
- Avoid work, school and other public areas
- Avoid public transport and taxis
- Get friends and family to delivery food, medicines etc rather than going to the shops
- Discourage visitors
6. What about face masks - do they work?
Paper face masks are not recommended by Public Health England, the NHS or other major health authorities for ordinary citizens, and with good reason.
They are ill-fitting and what protection they might initially provide soon expires. Worse, they quickly become moist inside, providing the perfect environment for germs to thrive in. They also become a hazard for others if carelessly discarded.
An exception to this would be if you were displaying symptoms such as coughing or sneezing - then a mask may help prevent you spreading the virus to others in busy locations.
7. Can the new coronavirus be treated?
There is no simple cure for the new coronavirus, just as there is no cure for the common cold.
In the vast majority of cases, the disease is only mild. Symptoms such as fever and general discomfort can be treated with aspirin and ibuprofen, or packaged cold and flu remedies containing the same.
It is in more severe cases, where pneumonia develops, that the danger lies. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics and, for the moment at least, there are no antivirals specific to this particular virus.
Instead doctors focus on supporting patients' lung function as best they can.They may be given oxygen or placed on a breathing machine (ventilator) in the most severe cases.
Other symptoms such as fever and discomfort will be treated using drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Secondary infections may be treated with antibiotics.
8. Are some groups of people more at risk than others?
Data from China suggests that people of all ages are at risk of contracting the virus, although older people are more likely to develop serious illness.
People with a reduced chance of surviving pneumonia include:
- Those over age 65
- Children under the age of two
- People with underlying health conditions or a weakened immune system
Of the first 425 confirmed deaths across mainland China, 80 per cent were in people over the age of 60, and 75 per cent had some form of underlying disease.