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[updated 2020/03/07 - amended contact information in "What should I do" section]
[updated 2020/03/12 - updated again]

What is it?

First up, please don't call it Coronavirus. It is, but so are others. Referring to the current illness with the name "Coronavirus" is like trying to refer to the President of France as "French". Him and sixty seven million others.
It's also a type of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), but the media trashed that name back in 2002-2003.

The "official" name is COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease 2019). The name I have used above is the nerdy name.

Secondly, you may well catch it given that it is turning up all over the place. Symptoms will vary between nothing at all (if you're a carrier) and death from multiple organ failure. However it appears that typical symptoms are a fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath and some lung pain, and fatigue. Sounds like me every Monday.
It is worth noting that typical flu symptoms of sore throat, nasal secretions, and sneezing are possible but uncommon. As always with respiratory ailments, it can progress into pneumonia.


How bad is it?

The reason why the world is freaking out is because it is a severe viral agent. As of March 2nd, the progression of SARS-CoV-2 in China had a 20% hospitalisation rate, and a death rate of around 2-3%. To put this into context, the seasonal flu typically kills 0.1% of the population. There are a little under 100,000 infections and around 3,300 deaths. So, yes, the red tops are correct when they scream about how it is TWENTY TIMES MORE DEADLY THAN FLU.
However such media reporting is mostly intended to give grannies heart attacks and cause little children to soil themselves. It's all about fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of foreigners, fear of strangers, fear of invisible things that will kill you (see pretty much any article on nuclear-anything for more examples).

Let's spin this around and look at it from the other side. One of the papers (Daily Mail?) said that it is estimated that one in five of Britain's workforce will be absent at the peak of the disease. Well, that means four in five of you will be at work like normal. So it'll just be like World Cup Day, for a couple of weeks.
About two percent of you may die. I put 'may' in italics as a large number of the deaths were in China - were these people old? Sick? Malnourished? What was their health like? What was their healthcare like? Without knowing all of the specifics, it isn't really possible to determine anything much about the fatality rate of the virus. However, let's just go with the 2% because it makes the maths nice and simple. 2% of you infected will die. 98%, on the other hand, will recover. Better yet, it is expected that 80% are likely to suffer only mild symptoms.
Suddenly you can see it is serious (especially if you're one of the 2%!), but it isn't the end of the world. It isn't a slaughter, a massacre, a rout.

To further put the numbers in context, SARS-CoV-2 has already claimed three and a half thousand lives. The seasonal flu last year killed about 9500 people in France, and about a quarter million worldwide.

As is usual, such ailments hit three groups of people:

  • The old (with weakened immune systems)
  • The young (with undeveloped immune systems)
  • People with immunodeficiency (AIDS, chemotherapy, lymphoma, steroid abuse, and so on)
The risk to the young is why some governments are closing schools.


What should I do if I think I have it?


Call the emergency services (except the UK) and tell them that you think you may have the virus. In France, dial 15 for an ambulance. If you have disabilities, you can contact 114; and the European emergency number 112 will work from any phone (even a mobile phone without a SIM - except some UK providers because sad morons were pranking them using old SIMless phones).

In the UK you're supposed to call the non-emergency NHS line on 111, because clearly a mad panic and isolation from the world (and reality) is clearly not enough of an emergency to be counted as an emergency. In the UK you should self-isolate for a period of seven days and do not call the NHS 111 number unless your condition deteriorates (probably to the state when you're an ambulance case). And, no, you won't be tested unless you need to be hospitalised. Good grief.

It could be worth checking if there's a special number for you to call in your country - it's probably been on TV a lot (along with instructions on how to wash hands); however if you're not sure, just call the damn emergency number - everybody is going batshit crazy enough that a genuine suspicion of COVID-19 ought to qualify. But don't be a jerk, don't call 'em because you have a runny nose. It's coming into springtime, it's the start of hayfever season.


Is there a cure or vaccination?


The WHO don't envisage any sort of vaccination before 18 months (even if some sort of "vaccination" already exists, it would need to undergo testing to make sure it isn't going to have effects worse than the virus - think of Thalidomide).


Basic precautions

Listen up - dump the face masks. They are mostly useful once you have the virus as they catch/diffuse the crap being expelled from your mouth when you cough. You wear a mask for the benefit of others, you do not wear it for the benefit of you. The sorts of masks that would benefit? They're not the ones everybody is buying.

There are, however, precautions that you can take to try to minimise your exposure to the virus:

  • Be cautious. Try to avoid going to places where lots of random people mix. If possible, do your shopping at times when there are usually fewer people around. Give a miss to burger joints and pubs (your wallet will thank you even if your kids don't). If you can drive, take your car and not public transport. If not, leave early and avoid the rush.
  • Be paranoid. If you see somebody coughing or sneezing in a manner that doesn't say "hayfever sufferer", just walk away. If this individual is coughing without making any attempt to cover their mouth, leave. It doesn't matter if they're giving out free money, just go.
    Holding your breath and hurrying past is ineffective - a virus can enter the body via mucal membranes and while this usually means your nasal passages, it also counts for your eyes (see why masks aren't useful?).
    The effective contamination radius vapourised droplets emitted from a coughing person depends upon their height and how hard they're coughing, but consider two metres to be a conservative estimate.
  • Do not touch your face with unwashed hands. No exceptions.
    A big no-no is to handle a shopping trolley or basket and then do something like rub your eyes. We all do it, we touch our faces all the time. You might be surprised if you ask your partner/friend to simply silently count how often you touch your face during, say, dinner or watching TV. And, yes, flicking hair behind an ear counts if you're one of those sorts of people.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Proper soap and water. You should scrub for a minimum of twenty seconds. Jacob Rees-Mogg came up with a suggestion only he could have thought up - wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing the national anthem (God Save The Queen). Other acceptable alternatives are Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light or ALLONS ENFANTS DE LA PATRIE! (it's from La Revolution, it's not supposed to be sung quietly - go look up a translation). If all else fails, Agadoo doo doo push pineapple shake the tree or Dey say oh my god I see duh way you shine... in fact, just sing anything. Except maybe Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (nearly 14 minutes), Rush's 2112 (a twenty minute prog-rock epic), or the like. Unless you want to burn through a bar of soap a day. Or you think handwashing sessions can be useful You Time to rock out.
  • Use a no-rinse handwash gel for times when you aren't able to wash your hands. I give mine a quick pass after I've been shopping.
    Read the smell print. It needs to be at least 60% ethanol (alcohol), and you should check that it can actually kill bugs. Some stuff is little more than nice smelling water and hygienically useless.
    The handwash gel should be a substitute for when you cannot wash your hands (or when you feel your dirty hands are cleaner than where you'd be washing them - most public toilets are disgusting). It is not a replacement for handwashing. Yes, it may become tedious repeatedly washing your hands to the same Genesis song, but slapping some gel on and rubbing it around for ten seconds is a stop-gap. And if you tire of Genesis, for god's sake go get yourself a Xandria CD, or search out some stuff on YouTube.
  • No hugs, no air kisses, no shaking hands. Thank god there is now a good excuse for not having people grab and shake one of my appendages (I really don't like contact from people I don't know personally).
  • If you cough or sneeze, for the love of everything that is holy, COVER YOUR BLOODY MOUTH. Preferably by burying your mouth and nose in your elbow.
  • Use tissues. Use disposable tissues. Toss (in the bin!) after use.
    If you're the kind of person who prefers a hanky (otherwise known as "a piece of cloth that you snot into repeatedly"), don't. (and...ewww!)
  • Regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces (counters, backs of chairs, doorknobs) with an alcohol or chlorine based cleaning product.


  • Stock up on essentials. There's no need to run around panic buying every pack of pasta in sight, but you can add an extra few items to your shopping when you do it...
    • Dried pasta and sauce
    • Tinned soup
    • Tinned vegetables
    • Long life microwave ready meals
    • Bottled water (if you have an untrustworthy supply)

You will notice the emphasis here is on meals that are simple to make. If it is you who becomes sick, there's possibly a time when you might not feel like eating anything, and then there will be times when you really don't want to have to spend an hour in the kitchen. It might suck to "shove something in the microwave", but you'll thank me when that's exactly what you do before crawling back into bed.

  • Consider extras of...
    • Pet food - or your furry friend will make its displeasure known on your sofa.
    • Toilet paper, tissues.
    • Nappies (if you have people in your family that wear them).
    • Guys - the other gender will thank you if you remember the feminine hygiene products.

This isn't just aimed in case you are asked to isolate yourself in your home should you become ill, it is also to give you reserves so you don't need to go out as often (or at all) if everybody else in your area is getting sick.
But, I repeat again, you don't need to panic buy and strip the shelves.


And finally

If you have a sense of humour like mine - "Everybody Dies" by Ayreon is a class song and will give you a solid five minutes of handwashing time (and maybe a broken mirror and bruised forehead).

Otherwise, put the kettle on and chill the f*** out. It's a nasty virus, not an alien invasion.




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Zerosquare, 5th March 2020, 13:42
"the European emergency number 112 will work from any phone (even a mobile phone without a SIM!)." 
Unfortunately, this is no longer true: cy_numbers_and_mobile_telephones
Rob, 6th March 2020, 19:52
Brits are being told to dial 111 (The NHS non-emergency number) if you suspect you have symptoms.
David Pilling, 7th March 2020, 02:04
Disappointing to be back in the era of dangerous infections diseases. The Daily Express points out that much of the world has never left that era. 
Disappointing that all the guys with the computers and research grants can come up with is "soap and water". 
At the age of 5 I started a school awash with infectious diseases and paid the price. No hand sanitiser or media hysteria. Back then they could do nothing. Soap and water had not been invented yet. 
Butterfly effect, Wuhan's equivalent of Ozzy Osbourne has done far worse for the world than Donald Trump ever could. 
Rick, 7th March 2020, 21:24
Updated contact information to mention NHS 111, plus note that there may be a special number in other countries that is probably being shown on TV.
Rick, 7th March 2020, 21:41
Three reasons why this particular virus is turning out to be really nasty: 
1, A higher Infection Fatality Rate which the WHO estimates at 0.3% to 1% (raising to 7.3% to 9% for the elderly (samples from the infected cruise ships)) compared to 0.3% of the Asian Flu of 1957. 
2, it seems as if this particular virus may have an abnormally high rate of asymptomatic infection, that is to say "carriers", those who are infected and can transmit the virus, but experience no illness. One source has suggested the rate of mild and asymptomatic infection may be 80% of those who contract the virus. 
3, An infected person who touches or coughs on a suitable surface (primarily solid surfaces like glass, metal, plastic...) may cause it to become contaminated for several days. If a person touches that surface, even days later, and then rubs their eyes (for example) or picks their nose (!), then they can infect themselves. 
That said, I don't get why people are freaking out and panicking and buying loads of toilet paper. This virus messes with your lungs, not your gut. Or maybe they think they'll get so frightened there will be... need to clean themselves up? 
Even stranger, I wonder how many of the people who are freaking out about this smoke, do drugs, drink to excess (the medical definition of excess, not theirs), or drive like nutters - all of which is routinely risking them killing themselves... 
VinceH, 7th March 2020, 22:57
The toilet paper thing is a bit silly, but is _sort of_ understandable, I think. 
In the event you have to self-isolate, it becomes an essential, and don't forget that for you or I, a single packet of loo roll will last for x amount of time, people might need to multiply x for however many people in their household. 
I did accidentally sort of panic buy loo roll last night. The packet in my bathroom is down to the last couple of rolls, so when I went out to do some late night shopping I decided to go a little mad and bought a packet of twelve. 
But when I got home and put them in the cupboard under the sink, I discovered I already had a packet of nine in there.  
Shocking stuff. 
(Side note: I'm in one of the higher risk categories - 50+ with hypertension - so that's fun.)
Rick, 7th March 2020, 23:26
Oh, I don't know... I can think of more important things. Bottled water? Tinned food? Toilet paper would be low on my list of priorities. I mean, if it came to it, I could use newspaper or... something. 
It's Britain for god's sake, why isn't everybody panic buying TEA? Standards are slipping, they really are. 
50+ is a higher risk? Crap, I'm only a stone's throw away from that. Thankfully my blood pressure is so low that I've had nurses wonder how I manage to stay conscious (truth is, I'm faking it 🙂). 
But still, got the grey hair and oh <clunk> crap shoulda bought the bog roll. That would have protected me, could have wrapped it around my face and sellotaped it in place... 
Rob, 7th March 2020, 23:58
I read an article somewhere about how most of the world copes quite readily without toilet paper. Just wash with water, is apparently the answer. Don't use newspaper, it will clog up the drains. 
I'm trying to be careful when out not to catch anything and bring it home. The Mrs has a laundry-list of "Pre-existing medical conditions" which would be bad news. Absolutely no hand sanitiser in the shops, so am using a spay made from 100% Pharmaceutical grade Isopropyl Alcohol and Glycerine for when I'm out. That and washing my hands as much and as often as I can ... 
VinceH, 8th March 2020, 00:21
Tap water should be fine - no need for the bottled stuff. AFAIK, there's no risk of COVID-19 in the mains water system, and the overall mortality rate should mean there's no risk of a supply failure. 
(TBF, I don't like the tap water hereabouts - not for drinking as is, anyway, so I do buy bottled water for filling my water bottles for walks. But for coffee etc, the tap is fine.) 
Tinned food apparently _is_ going in some places. I'm not sure here, though; when I went shopping last night, some tinned food shelves were bare, some had very few tins. It _might_ have been down to timing, though - I was there spanning midnight. 
I couldn't get all the things I needed last night, so I popped to my local Aldi today, and its tinned food shelves were also almost completely bare. However, it's closing at the end of business tomorrow and won't be open again for another month - a store expansion - so it's possible they simply aren't refilling the shelves for the last couple of days. (They did appear to have plenty of loo roll on the shelves, though). 
On the subject of age, 50+ is higher risk, but not a lot higher than 40+ - about three times higher, but I think we're talking just under half a percent mortality rate for 40s, so just under 1.5% for 50s. 60+ it jumps by just over 3x again, then more than doubles for 70s, then again for 80s. 
So 1.5% isn't too bad on its own - but it's the high BP that's the bigger issue; IIRC that has an 8.5% mortality rate, so that's a 1 in 12 chance of kicking the bucket if I catch it, or a 11 in 12 chance of surviving if looking at it optimistically. 
(All figures from memory, so could be slightly out.) 
Rick, 8th March 2020, 01:01
Ah, my tap water comes from a well, so anything other than washing and bathing needs bottled water. 
I think one of the main factors regarding shop stock is that everybody works to a tight JIT, and anomalies like this can mess things up badly (how many baked beans were ordered this week? how many should be ordered for next week?) and when you compound that with something that has the potential to knock s fifth of the workforce out sick for several weeks, well then it all starts to fall apart. 
Yeah, the media would concentrate on the 1 on 12, but it's much better to think of 11 in 12 survival rate. That's not your chance of missing it, mind you, that's your chance of catching it and getting over it. Maybe you'll be lucky and think you never had it (when in fact you did but it didn't make you sick)? That option exists for many, and for around 4 in 5 of us the effects of the virus range from nothing to mild. Fingers crossed, eh?
Rick, 8th March 2020, 01:05
Ugh. So many dumb typos. My excuse, it's 1am and I coulda shoulda woulda gone to bed ages ago but... tired so tired but my stupid brain won't turn itself off. 😨
VinceH, 8th March 2020, 01:31
(Typing on my phone now so typos will likely be many!) 
Yeah - although I'm on meds for hypertension (severe when it was caught - it peaked at 240/140) and I am notably overweight, and I do tend to suffer from whatever seasonal bug is doing thr rounds (the one I've had since before the SW show is still lingering for example - which probably scares people a bit atm!)... despite all of that, I'm actually quite healthy. 
For example, my resting heart rate these days is usually low 60s - sometimes 60 dead - which is almost certainly a good indicator that my BP is currently sane. (I used to check it regularly, but my monitor got broke when I moved last year.) 
So I'm inclined to think that if I catch it, I'll be one of the lucky 11. I'd prefer not to find out, though! ;) 
But more seriously, also for a similar reason as Rob with his other half: I normally pop to my parents' house quite often - mum is 72, and my step dad is 69 with COPD, so much higher risk. For the time being, therefore, I'm cutting that down as much as possible. 
I hope my siblings are being similarly sensible and/or as cautious as me with not trusting other people's hygiene!
Rick, 12th March 2020, 21:51
PM Johnson has said today that people should stay home if they have a cough or fever and self-isolate for a period of seven days (ditto if somebody you live with is ill). BUT DO NOT call the NHS 111 number unless condition deteriorates, they're only going to test hospital patients. 
As opposed to, say, Korea and Italy that have more accurate evaluations of the spread of the virus because they're testing everybody and everything. 
While France has banned gatherings of more than 1000 people, in the UK it is thought that a few hundred will attend the Cheltenham Festival this week because clearly Johnson is taking Trump's "no biggie" approach. 
The reason countries are entering lockdown (Norway starting now) is not just to try to contain the spread of the virus, but also to help disperse the load that it would place on hospitals. Think about it - if you have huge numbers of people getting sick at the same time, even with 3%-5% needing hospitalisation, it's still going to be a really big number. Where do you think you're going to put everybody? 
Still, we must remember. It's a Tory government. The economy is the most important thing, and a deadly virus is a godsend - it'll cull so many of those unwanted pensioners that dare to carry on living and claiming their pensions... 
VinceH, 13th March 2020, 01:26
It's been suggested, and looking at what they're doing, that they're banking on the population developing a herd immunity, whereby once enough people are immune, it will be more difficult for the virus to spread. 
That might work for some things - and in particular where some/many people (but not all) are vaccinated, but obviously there's no vaccination yet, and almost certainly won't be until well into next year *if we're lucky*. But for corvid-19 it's an idea that falls flat on its face, IMO. For this, immunity can only come by becoming infected *and surviving*. The majority will, but a significant number won't. Herd immunity in this case will come at a very high cost. 
The idea of flattening the curve is fine; the idea there is that the rate of new infections will be slower, and the peak lower, even if the overall number of infections is the same over a greater period of time. Good hygiene helps here, obviously, as does social distancing: The very thing he is not calling for (unless you have symptoms). 
So we've basically gone from "Please wash your hands, and if you have symptoms and have come back from certain countries, please self-isolate" (the 'contain' stage) to "Please wash your hands, and if you have one of these two symptoms, please self-isolate" ('delay'). 
I did look for an alcohol-based no-rinse hand-wash last week when I did my shopping, for use when out and about, but couldn't see any on the shelves. I came up with an alternative solution, though, having subsequently spotted that I hadn't put a couple of used soap dispenser bottles in the recycling. I now have a portable washing kit! :) (Not as good as running water from a tap, but needs must!) I can keep it in my office where I have one, and wash my hands after I step outside for whatever reason, or in the car when I'm out and about, to wash my hands when returning to the car. 
Given that where I was earlier in the week, I did notice the sound of the flush at least once, but not the hand dryer - from which I infer neither the tap nor the soap was either - and that you have to *pull* the door to open it *after* washing your hands (or not in this particular case), I think my personal washing kit was a sensible move; it meant I could wash my own hands before opening that door, *and after* when I returned to the confines of my own office. 
And tomorrow, my mother wants me to take her to Makro - so I'll be using it (and getting her to do so as well) after leaving the store and before getting back in the car, and ditto if we visit any other shops while up there, with a proper wash once we return to her house.

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