Local concerns about the novel coronavirus outbreak risked reaching fever pitch on Tuesday, despite not a single case of infection being reported in Malta.

We answer some of the key questions concerning the COVID-19 virus.

How dangerous is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a serious virus that also spreads relatively quickly. However, in the vast majority of cases, contracting it will feel no worse than a nasty bout of the flu. Symptoms include coughs, fever and shortness of breath.

More serious cases lead to pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome or septic shock.

Is everyone equally at risk?

No. The virus’ harm depends on how strong a person’s immune system is. Older, frailer people are at a greater risk than younger, healthier ones.

More than nine out of every 10 COVID-19-related deaths have been in people aged 80 or over.

People with underlying conditions such as respiratory conditions, heart disorders, diabetes or hypertension are more likely to develop severe symptoms.

How likely is it to kill me?

Statistics suggest the virus killed roughly two out of every 100 infected people in mainland China, but less than one per cent of cases elsewhere.

That is a far lower rate than that of Sars, which killed around 10 per cent of confirmed cases.

The seasonal flu, by comparison, only causes death in 0.1 per cent of cases. But so many people contract influenza every year, that roughly 400,000 people die of it every year. So even low fatality rates can lead to several deaths, if spread over a large enough number of infected people. 

How is the virus transmitted?

Studies are still under way, but the virus can be transmitted from person-to-person, and seems to be transmitted mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. 

How long can it take for symptoms to appear? 

The incubation period for COVID-19 - the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms - is currently estimated at between two and 14 days.

Should I go to the doctor if I feel unwell?

If you or someone close to you has travelled to northern Italy, China (including Hong Kong), Singapore, Japan, Iran or South Korea recently and is feeling unwell, contact your doctor and make them aware of your travel history.

Should I send my children to school?

Yes, unless your children have recently visited regions or countries affected by the virus.

If they have, you should contact your school and discuss the possibility of self-quarantine as a preventative measure.

Children who are feeling unwell should always stay at home until they recover, as weakened immune systems heighten the chance of infection.

Should I avoid crowds or public events?

There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Malta so far, so there is no reason to avoid public events so far.

I have a holiday planned. Should I cancel it?

Consider rescheduling your holiday if you will be travelling to China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Iran, South Korea or the northern parts of Italy.

If you are travelling somewhere else, there is currently no reason to change your plans.

Don't fret, your holiday is still safe. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaDon't fret, your holiday is still safe. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

I have just returned from an affected area. What should I do?

You should self-quarantine. That means staying indoors for 14 days and restricting contact with other people to the bare minimum.

Are Chinese or Italian people, parcels or food dangerous?

No, no and no. There is no danger. We had already debunked these myths some weeks ago.

Dig into those dim sum - Chinese food is completely safe. Photo: ShutterstockDig into those dim sum - Chinese food is completely safe. Photo: Shutterstock

Are people in quarantine a danger to me?

No. Quarantine is a preventative measure, and does not mean that a person is infected. People are put into quarantine as a precaution, to ensure that if they are infected, their exposure to other people is limited.

Should I stock up on food and medication?

There is absolutely no need to go panic shopping. There are no directions to stay indoors, authorities say they have healthy supplies of medical equipment and food supplies are in no danger of running out.

Do antibiotics help fight the virus?  

No. Antibiotics attack bacteria and are therefore useless against COVID-19, which is a virus. 

Don't bother with antibiotics - they're completely useless in this case. Photo: ShutterstockDon't bother with antibiotics - they're completely useless in this case. Photo: Shutterstock

Do vitamin C/saline solution/sesame oil help prevent infection?

Vitamin C can help boost the immune system and should be taken in regular doses. But claims that it can make people immune to COVID-19 are not backed by science. The same goes for claims concerning saline solution or sesame oil. 

Do not trust everything you read on social media and rely on guidelines by medical authorities.

Are masks a good way to avoid infection?

The scientific evidence is unclear. Public health experts disagree as to how useful masks are at preventing infection in general settings.

While masks are a good way of protecting a person from droplets caused by someone sneezing or coughing, they are not necessarily the most effective way of protecting a person from contracting the virus.

What can I do to protect myself and others?

The single most important thing you can do is to wash your hands with soap or an alcoholic rub, thoroughly and regularly.

Your hands are in regular contact with surfaces which may carry the virus, such as tables, door knobs or countertops. Regular hand hygiene can significantly cut your chances of infection.

Stay at home if you are feeling unwell. Do not go to school or work, and do not visit patients in hospital if you are sick.

Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Do not cough or sneeze into your bare hands. Throw away used tissues immediately.

Keep your hands clean, using soap or hand sanitiser. Photo: AFPKeep your hands clean, using soap or hand sanitiser. Photo: AFP

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