What can you do to avoid the new coronavirus?

6 March 2020

Update: official UK guidance on how to avoid catching or spreading the new coronavirus has changed. You can read the latest advice on the NHS website here.

As the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is new, the NHS says it is not known exactly how it spreads from person to person, although similar viruses spread in cough droplets.

Coronaviruses are a broad category of viruses which cause a number of different respiratory illnesses. One is the common cold, but the category also includes SARS (the severe acute respiratory syndrome, of which there were outbreaks in 2002 and 2004), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) in addition to Covid-19. 

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What you should do to minimise your risk of catching or spreading the new coronavirus

The official guidance recommends washing your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds, and always when you arrive at home or work. An alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel can be used if soap and water are not available. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that the hand sanitiser should have an alcohol content of at least 60%.

You should also cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or a sleeve, rather than your hands, when you cough or sneeze, and be sure to put used tissues in the bin straight away. Wash your hands again afterwards. 

Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.

The NHS also recommends trying to avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of the virus. 

If you personally have symptoms of a fever or new, continuous cough then you should stay at home for seven days. 

 New advice published on 18 May now says that anyone experiencing loss of taste or smell (known as 'anosmia') should also self-isolate.

You do not need to contact NHS 111 unless you cannot cope with your symptoms, they’re getting worse or you don’t improve after seven days. If these do happen, you should use the online 111 service. Do not go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital if you have these symptoms.

If anyone else in your household develops these symptoms, you should also stay at home for 14 days even if you have no symptoms. If you develop symptoms during this time, you should stay at home for a further seven days from the time you develop the symptoms, regardless of how far you are through the original 14 days.

In addition to that, the NHS advises to only travel if you need to and to work from home if you can, and that you should avoid having visitors in your home. It says to avoid events with large groups of people and social activities such as trips to the pub, theatre, restaurant or cinema. This is called ‘social distancing’, and advice on how to do this can be found here.

It adds that if you need to contact your GP or other NHS services then you should use the phone, online services or apps

The NHS says this advice is particularly important for those aged 70 or over, who have a long term health condition, a weakened immune system or who are pregnant. The NHS will also begin contacting people it thinks are particularly at risk from 23 March.

There are ways to plan for the possibility of self-isolation, such as talking to your employer, friends and family so you can access the things you need to stay at home for seven days and considering how to access basic supplies like food and medication. More advice on how to prepare can be found here.

It’s important to note that this advice could change if the virus spreads further. 

The World Health Organisation recommends keeping at least one metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing, and says anyone who feels unwell should stay at home. 

What isn’t in the official advice

 The government says there is no evidence you can catch the Covid-19 coronavirus from pets, and there is “very little evidence of benefit” for people using face masks outside a clinical setting like a hospital. If you are going to wear a face mask we’ve written more about how they should be worn here.

It also says it is highly unlikely that you can catch Covid-19 from parcels, letters or food.

We’ll continue to fact check claims relating to the virus and you can keep up to date with our latest fact checks.

The latest NHS guidance can be found here and the latest from the government here.

We’ve written more about the symptoms of Covid-19.

We’ve written more about what to do if you think you may have Covid-19 coronavirus.

Update 17 March 2020

We've updated this article to reflect the latest advice from the government.

Update 18 May 2020

This article was updated to reflect new government guidance about symptoms including a loss of taste or smell.

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