Countries around the world are closing borders and putting citizens under lockdown in a bid to contain the rapid spread of the new coronavirus outbreak, labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO’s declaration has increased pressure on governments to ramp up their response, sparking emergency action plans and upending life around the globe.
Here’s what you need to know about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19:
How to protect yourself
It is essential to maintain social distancing – including remaining one metre (three feet) away from anyone who may be coughing or sneezing near you; wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap; cover your face with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, and then throw the tissue in a waste bin; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; clean surfaces and objects you touch often; seek medical attention if you have symptoms; and avoid direct contact with live animals in affected areas.
Scientists doubt the effectiveness of face masks in protecting a healthy person from airborne viruses, saying they are more useful in keeping an infected person from affecting others.
Because masks are loose and permeable, they cannot completely prevent what is in the air from passing in.
An increasing number of countries has advised people to self-quarantine for at least two weeks while also implementing a series of sweeping social distancing measures, including banning public gatherings and shutting down schools.
But as the number of cases grows, so do the myths surrounding the new coronavirus. Here and here, we clear up some of the rumours and misconceptions around the outbreak.
Symptoms to look for and who is most at risk
According to the WHO, the most common symptoms are fever, fatigue and a dry cough. Some patients may experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.
Current estimates of the incubation period – the amount of time between infection and the onset of symptoms – range from one to 14 days. Most infected people show symptoms within five to six days.
However, infected patients can also be asymptomatic, not displaying symptoms despite having the virus in their system.
The elderly, and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
Read more on what the coronavirus does to your body if you catch it here.