Fears are growing that the new coronavirus could become a pandemic, and while it’s still mostly affecting people in China, the potentially deadly virus has been traced across the planet, from Africa to North America.
What can individuals do to protect themselves from contracting the virus?
The precautionary measures recommended by health experts are basically the same as those for every flu season.
#1. Learn to sneeze properly
Even if there’s a low chance you’re infected, you should cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm rather than your hands. And it’s best to stay a metre or two away from someone else who’s coughing or sneezing, as this is believed to be the most common method of infection.
#2. Stop touching your face
Touching your face is often a subconscious reflex, and yet experts say it’s still good to avoid rubbing your eyes, nose and mouth when you can. While it’s not necessary to constantly douse your hands with disinfectant, you should wash them regularly and thoroughly with soap and water.
#3. Get your shots:
There’s not yet a vaccine for the virus, nor is one expected before year’s end, according to Dr Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), responsible for disease control and prevention in Germany.
But older people would do well to be vaccinated against pneumococci, a type of streptococcus bacteria, and whooping cough -- both serious in combination with the coronavirus.
At the same time, getting a flu shot eases the burden on the health-care system, Wieler says.
Despite the widespread use of face masks, the RKI and other health agencies say there’s insufficient evidence that healthy people who cover their mouths will significantly reduce their infection risk.
The World Health Organization (WHO), on its website, has further advice for the public on protection against COVID-19.