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How COVID-19 spreads & how to avoid passing it on

Strategic Incident Director for COVID-19 Professor Keith Willett explains how someone can catch coronavirus, how it spreads and how you can avoid passing it on.

Hello I’m Professor Keith Willett — I’m the Strategic Incident Director for Coronavirus for the NHS.

It’s important we understand what coronavirus is, and how a virus causes infection and that means it’s much easier for us to understand how we should behave at home, and at work.

So a virus is a tiny, tiny piece of genetic material. On your hands you know that you have millions of bacteria, but you can’t see them. If I was a bacteria, a virus to me would be no more than a mosquito on my skin. The way a virus gets into your body and causes illness is it comes in onto your moist surfaces — your nose, your mouth, your throat — it attaches to those cells, gets into the cell, and basically takes over the production line of your cell — producing tens of thousands of viruses.

The cell then breaks down, your body reacts for the first time by giving you a temperature and a fever because you’re now fighting something, and at the same time as the virus is emitted from that cell you start to cough. That’s the first time you really become infectious. So for the five days before you’re probably not infectious. But it’s important then if someone has coronavirus and they start coughing, that they catch it in a tissue and bin it.

The other way you catch coronavirus is from surfaces. Surfaces that someone has touched. So it’s important that whenever someone has coronavirus that their surfaces around them are regularly cleaned — the door handles, the toilet, you don’t share things like towels.

When someone is coughing the virus needs to move on to somebody else. It can’t get there without a vehicle. The vehicle it uses are the heavy droplets that you cough, and they are only shed a few feet away from the individual. So if you’re two meters away — social distancing — you won’t catch the virus. If you’re close to them, and you’re at work, you need to be wearing protective equipment.

At home you need to keep the distance. That’s how the virus moves around our society. If you can avoid those risks of transmission of the virus, it will all help us in the NHS. Do take care.

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