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COVID-19: Your questions answered on the coronavirus outbreak

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The novel coronavirus — named COVID-19 — has been declared public enemy number one by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as more than 43,000 cases were reported worldwide.

But with plenty of information — some real, some fake — being released, Euronews has decided to answer some of your most commonly asked questions.

We want to help you cut through fake claims and fear-mongering around the coronavirus outbreak. So ask us your...

Publiée par Euronews English sur Mardi 11 février 2020

How is it transmitted?

COVID-19, like other strains of coronavirus, are zoonotic. That means that it was first transmitted between animals and people. However, this particular strain is also transmitted from human to human.

As a respiratory disease, its transmission is mainly carried out by droplets from coughing and sneezing. So to minimise the risk of infection, people are advised to avoid close contact with persons who have symptoms of respiratory disease including sneezing and coughing and to regularly wash their hands.

The World Health Organisation also advised to "thoroughly" cook meat and eggs.

Infections in a block of flats in Hong Kong have also raised fears that the virus could spread through faeces and building pipes.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, more than 300 cases in Hong Kong were linked to a large apartment complex in which the virus spread through the sewage system and environmental contamination, a Hong Kong government investigation found.

What are the symptoms?

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

In more severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. People with weakened immune systems such as the elderly and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are more likely to be more impacted.

How has Europe fared so far?

As of February 11, there were 41 cases reported in the EU and UK. With 14 cases, Germany has the highest tally, followed by France (11), the UK (8), Italy (3), Spain (2) and one each in Belgium, Finland and Sweden.

More than 1,100 have lost their lives to the virus, with all but one fatality taking place in China.

Many European countries have repatriated their nationals from Wuhan, the Chinese city in Hubei province considered to be the epicentre of the outbreak. Returnees have been tested kept in isolation or quarantine for 14 days as a precautionary measure.

China released the full virus sequence in early January, allowing a diagnostic test to be created. According to WHO, 31 countries in the wider Europe region were thus able to rapidly establish testing capacities.

The UN agency has also commissioned the manufacturing the test kits and will ship 192 of those kits (each containing 100 tests) to 20 laboratories in Europe.

Countries that do not have their own testing facilities can send samples to the six international laboratories in Europe that have been designated as regional referral laboratories. These are located in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia and the UK.

The quarantine: why 14 days?

The number of days people have to stay under quarantine depends on the incubation period.

Each disease may have a different incubation period. For instance, the incubation period for measles ranges between nine and 20 days, with a median value of 13 days while for SARS, another deadly coronavirus strain, the incubation period ranges from 2-7 days.

A study released on Sunday by Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the SARS virus in 2003, revealed that COVID-19's incubation period ranges up to 24 days.

What next?

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) stressed that it is "not possible to predict how long the outbreak will last" because very little is known about the virus including whether transmission "will decrease during the summer, as is observed for seasonal influenza".

It also argued that one of the reasons the number of cases is rapidly growing is that the capacity to detect cases is improving, adding that "a sudden increase in the number of cases is often observed during the initial; phase of an outbreak of an emerging disease".

Dr Zong, who's also the Chinese government's senior medical adviser, told the Reuters agency on Tuesday that COVID-19 is hitting its peak and that "it may be over in something like April".

As it's a new disease, there is currently no vaccine to combat it. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on developing one but it will take months before it can be used as it will need to undergo thorough testing to determine its efficacy and safety, the ECDC explained.