China coronavirus: Your questions answered


People wear masks in Beijing, ChinaImage copyright
EPA/WU HONG

Image caption

People wear masks near the Tiananmen Gate Tower in Beijing, China

The coronavirus in China has killed tens of people and spread to several provinces, as well as the US, Thailand and South Korea.

Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, was locked down on Thursday

The origin is suspected to be a food market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”.

Officials in the UK are monitoring flights from China.

BBC health and science correspondents Michelle Roberts and James Gallagher answer your questions about the new virus.

Can the coronavirus be transferred through items bought from Wuhan and posted to UK? – Stefan

There is no evidence this is a risk. Some diseases – including the coronavirus that causes Sars – can spread through surfaces contaminated by people coughing or sneezing on them.

It has not been shown this new coronavirus can do that. Even if it could, there would still be questions about whether international shipping would be a major problem.

Cold viruses tend to survive less than 24 hours outside the human body although norovirus (a severe stomach bug) can last months outside the body.

The most reassuring fact so far is that cases seem to require close contact with another person – say, a family member or healthcare worker – in order to spread.

Is there any reason such viruses are emerging more from China? – Gautam

Yes – large populations of people living in close proximity to animals.

This coronavirus almost certainly came from an animal source, with one suggestion being snakes. Sars, another coronavirus that originated in China, came from bats and the civet cat.

The early cases of this new infection were traced to the South China Seafood Wholesale Market. Live wild animals were also sold including chickens, bats and snakes.

It is a far cry from the usual shopping experience if you are used to your meat nicely cut up and in clear plastic packaging in your typical Western-supermarket.

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Media captionThe BBC’s online health editor talks us through what we know about the virus

Given we have three flights from Wuhan to London every week, should we be wearing face masks on the Tube? – Anonymous

No. There are still no cases in the UK and the risk is deemed to be “low”. Seasonal flu is still a bigger risk to your health in the UK than this novel coronavirus.

Is this likely to play out as a Sars-type outbreak, with clusters, or a swine flu situation, where everyone is affected? – Clare

The expectation is this will be closer to severe acute respiratory syndrome than swine flu because the new coronavirus is a relative of Sars.

However, one of the big unanswered questions is how readily this virus spreads from one person to another.

How does the speed of the confirmed spread compare [with] previous outbreaks and does that suggest anything about the transmission vector? – Daniel

It is very hard to know how fast it is actually spreading.

It might appear as though cases have soared, from 40 to 440 in less than a week. But this is misleading.

Most of the “new” cases were already out there but have only just been detected as China steps up its surveillance.

There is actually very little information on the “growth rate” of the outbreak.

How did Sars spread? How did it originate? – Angelo Busato

Sars started off in bats and then infected the civet cat, which in turn passed it on to humans.

Some people were infected by direct contact with civet cats.

But it was also able to spread from one person to another through coughs, sneezes and contaminated surfaces.

Is there anything we could do for prevention? – Anonymous

There is no vaccine and very little beyond basic hygiene to minimise the risk.

Doctors will be trying to diagnose and isolate cases as quickly as possible and trace people patients have come into contact with to try to stay on top of the virus.

How likely is it to travel to the UK or Europe? – Barry Flynn

The longer this goes on and the more people are infected in China, the more likely it becomes there will be cases in the UK and Europe.

Is it possible to vaccinate in order to prevent this respiratory illness? – Hans Friedrich

At the moment, there is no vaccine that can protect people against this type of coronavirus, but researchers are looking to develop one.

It is a new strain that hasn’t been seen in humans before, which means doctors still have lots to learn about it.

I am travelling to Beijing and Shanghai in February and would like to know what, if necessary, precautions to take whilst there? – Matt

Based on currently available information, the World Health Organization has not recommend any restrictions on travel or trade.

You should re-check the latest travel advice before you depart.

Is it possible for the virus to have affected any person, who travelled to China in the last few months for example, October to December 2019? – Anonymous

The first human cases were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

There have not been any other suspected human cases reported prior to this.

Given the type of virus, the incubation period (how long it takes for symptoms to appear after catching the infection) is days, rather than weeks.

It is not yet known how or when the virus became infectious to people.

Experts believe the first cases were transmitted by an animal.

Are UK airports planning to screen arrivals? Two family members have lung and heart conditions and relatives from China arrive this week. – Anonymous

Currently, UK airports are not screening passengers on arrival. The government is keeping the situation under review.

Extra checks such as temperature scans have been put in place to screen some travellers elsewhere.

Airports in Singapore , Hong Kong and Tokyo have been screening air passengers from Wuhan and US authorities last week announced similar measures at three major airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York .

Image copyright
Getty Images

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There were six coronaviruses known to infect people

A lot of initially infected people have already been discharged from hospitals. Does it mean that the virus is not that dangerous? – Anonymous

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe disease. It’s not yet clear how bad this new coronavirus is.

If a patient has recovered from the infection, they should not pose a significant risk to others and can be sent home from hospital provided they are well enough.

What animal does the Corona virus come from? How can one protect himself against? – Anonymous

It is not yet known how the virus was transmitted. Other coronaviruses, such as Sars and Mers, came from civet cats and camels respectively.

Experts are working to find the source.

Standard recommendations to prevent infection apply. These include:

  • regular hand washing
  • covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • thoroughly cooking meat and eggs

Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.


Advice from UK agency

In its advice to travellers, the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) says there is a low risk of pneumonia due to the novel coronavirus to travellers to Wuhan but simple precautions such as washing hands should be taken.

NaTHNaC adds: “You should also avoid animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals (such as uncooked meat).

“Seek medical attention if you develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan, informing your health service prior to attendance about your recent travel to the city.”



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