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Coronavirus: How long can you stand next to an infected person before you get the virus?

Coronavirus is predicted to become more rampant in the coming weeks and the latest jump in fatalities crystallises these fears. Over the last 24 hours, 83 new patients have tested positive for the pathogen, putting the current number of cases at 456. The rapid escalation underscores the importance of maintaining social distancing to stem the spread of the virus.


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Social distancing is a simple but fundamentally important concept. Based on the current understanding of the virus, it is spread in droplets from coughs and sneezes, so the more you come into contact with an infected person, the more likely you are to catch the infection.

A key part of social distancing is restricting the amount of time you spend next to an infected person.

It is also important to maintain a safe distance from an infected person.

According to Public Health England (PHE), typically spending more than 15 minutes within two metres of an infected person can raise your risk of catching the virus.

Why is social distancing so important?

If everyone abides by this measure, you slow down the rate of transmission in any given community and flatline the curve.

This eases the pressure on hospitals and buys time to develop a vaccine and other response measures.

How to spot an infected person

The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu, so be extra vigilant around people exhibiting symptoms associated with these respiratory infections.

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A cough
  • A high temperature
  • Shortness of breath

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In addition to maintaining social distancing, there are measures you can implement to mitigate the chances of catching and spreading the virus.

The most important measure is to wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds, according to the NHS.

Other hygiene tips include:

  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell

You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean, warns the NHS.


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What do I do if I suspect I have it?

If you think you might have coronavirus or you’ve been in close contact with someone who has it, the health body recommends you:

  • Stay at home and avoid close contact with other people
  • Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital
  • Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service to find out what to do next

The 111 coronavirus service will tell you if you need to continue to stay at home (self-isolate) or if you need medical help.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) – what we know far

COVID-19 is a new strain of virus that belongs to a group of viruses called coronaviruses, which are common around the world.

The virus first broke out in Wuhan, a province in China.

It is believed that the virus was transmitted from a bat but the origin of the pathogen is still being confirmed.

How is the disease diagnosed and analysed in the UK?

The UK is one of the first countries outside China to have a prototype specific laboratory test for this new disease.

After the experience of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, PHE developed a series of diagnostic tests to detect any member of the family of coronaviruses.

When a clinician suspects novel coronavirus (COVID-19), they take samples from the nose, throat and deeper respiratory samples, package and send them safely to PHE Colindale.

PHE can provide a laboratory result from this specific virus on the same working day.

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  • Posted on March 12, 2020