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Prevent spread of coronavirus with ‘less hugging and kissing’, says virologist

The Independent logo The Independent 13/02/2020 Olivia Petter
a man drinking a glass of wine © Provided by The Independent

Avoiding physical interaction could be the key to preventing the spread of coronavirus, a virologist has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor John Oxford from Queen Mary University said people could protect themselves from contracting the deadly illness by avoiding handshakes, hugs, and kisses.

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“It’s a social virus,” Oxford said. “I think we have to galvanise ourselves in our social actions – how we interact with people.

"And I think that is extremely important; more so than wearing a mask. I think that’s a total diversion.

“What we need to do is less of the handshaking, hugging, kissing, that sort of thing, because this virus looks like its spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily colds and coughing.”

Oxford added that coronavirus “hates” the UK because Britons are naturally “standoffish”.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, who also spoke on the Today programme, said he believes that in the worst-case scenario, 60 per cent of the UK population could become infected with coronavirus.

The number of British cases of coronavirus currently stands at eight, with two healthcare workers among those testing positive – while a GP surgery in Brighton was closed amid fears of the infection spreading.​

The government has since classified the virus, which has infected more than 40,000 people in China and led to the death of more than 1,000, as a “serious and imminent threat” to public health.

It has also activated emergency powers that could see it force people to remain in quarantine.

“I will do everything in my power to keep people in this country safe,” Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said in a statement.

“We are taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus. NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country.”

The WHO advises people to frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap, cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing and avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough.

It also says to seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers. People should also avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas.

People should also avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

A Boots spokesperson added: “Antiviral hand foams and gel can also be useful when you are out and about.”

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