Press columnist Dr Zak Uddin offers a practical guide to coping with coronavirus

AS the headline of all newspapers and bulletins, it is almost impossible not to have heard of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

The coronaviruses themselves are not a new species and include those responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) as well as MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome). However this particular strain itself has not been encountered before.

Originally identified in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, China, the first case is thought to have originated from a “wet market”, which sells both dead and live animals and fish for consumption. Through global travel, the virus has spread to over 140 countries worldwide, with more than 180,000 confirmed infections.

Coronavirus spreads through droplet infection, that being coughing and sneezing. The main symptoms are a persistent dry cough and fever. With guidance being updated regularly, current advice states you should self-isolate if you have either of these, irrespective of whether you have travelled from a high risk area recently, or been in contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.

Self-isolation involves staying at home, ideally away from other members of the household. In a shared kitchen you should use a facemask, with separate utensils. Using a different bathroom would be ideal; if this is not possible, the room should be regularly cleaned. Use alternate towels to your family members. The duration of isolation should be at least 7 days. If other family members have symptoms, this may need to be extended to 14.

Please do not attend your GP surgery or Out of Hours facility if you have symptoms of potential coronavirus and are otherwise well. Instead follow the self-isolation policy as described above. If you are unwell, the government advises to telephone NHS 111 which has now increased its resources to deal with the situation.

From a practical point of view, those lucky enough not to have caught the virus will naturally want to know how best to reduce their chances of becoming infected.

Try to limit all non-essential travel, this encompasses working from home where practical, right through to avoiding any journey to high-risk areas.

Many public gatherings have been cancelled in the light of the outbreak. This is known as social distancing.

Contrary to this, pregnant women are advised to continue attending antenatal classes, providing they do not have symptoms. The Royal College of Obstetricians reassures that at the present time there is no evidence that infection with COVID-19 will cause abnormalities to your baby or increase the risk of miscarriage.

Regular handwashing remains a key principle as well as catching coughs and colds in a paper tissue, then disposing of it.

For the majority of those who are otherwise fit and well, infection with the coronavirus should be a self-limiting illness. Sadly, those with underlying health conditions and at the extremes of age are more risk to succumbing.

In among this, we should not ignore the psychological distress of living with the fear of illness, issues surrounding self-isolation as well as the massive disruption to people’s livelihoods as a result of this outbreak.