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Stop hugs and kisses to beat COVID-19

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For the moment coronavirus is not a pandemic but the signs are that China is struggling to keep it contained despite a huge effort to isolate parts of the population.

It is easy to get into a moral panic over the virus spreading and worrying about contact with other people or travelling.

Cyprus health authorities say there is no need to panic and they have everything under control.

Granted, there have been no confirmed cases on the island, despite a few scares, but can we have confidence that the health system will cope with an outbreak close to home.

To stop people boycotting Chinese restaurants or turning the disease into a tool for race hate, the World Health Organization gave the new coronavirus strain a fancy new name COVID-19.

Sounds like a bad horror movie that could kill you while to the uninitiated the coronavirus sounds like a mild dose of boredom.

But like any virus, it could come for you if your defences are down during the winter months.

There is an argument that human behaviour is giving the virus a chance to spread through our habit of close contact with friends and family.

Especially in Mediterranean countries, we like to hug, shake hands, give each other a peck on the cheek, this can be risky even for catching the flu, which also kills the vulnerable.

Some experts suggest that during such medical emergencies – or even for the long term – we should find different ways to meet and greet people.

Being stand-offish is rather rude so maybe touching elbows is the way forward, it looks awkward but it’s a start.

John Oxford, Emeritus Professor of virology at Queen Mary University London believes less of the handshaking, touching and kissing is the best precaution.

He argues the virus’s weakness lies in reducing “transmission events” where it can be spread by contact (no kissing in the back seat).

At the moment the number of cases outside China are too few to worry about but adopting good habits could prepare for or prevent an outbreak.

The coronavirus can live on your fingers for up to two hours after contact, so go cashless, avoid touching anything and air kisses all around.

Right now, the probability of catching the coronavirus is slimmer than finding an honest Cypriot referee but if circumstances change, avoid breathing on people and adopt clean habits.

Other precautions you should take are covering your mouth when you sneeze, although sneezing into your elbow is believed to be more effective.

Risky behaviour during infectious disease outbreaks includes not washing hands, sharing food with ill people, not disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces, and failing to self-isolate.

Although the worst thing to do is believe fake news stories and not adhere to official medical advice.

Misinformation about the disease on social media is almost as bad as the virus itself.

Masks are said to be effective at preventing the spread of viruses in droplets of spit or phlegm but little evidence they are effective outside certain settings.

Experts argue that facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, disposed of safely and used in combination with good hygiene behaviour for them to be effective.

Research also shows that good hygiene reduces over time when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods, so washing your hands is a better bet.

Health Minister Konstantinos Ioannou says not to panic as there are coordinated EU measures for this epidemic to be tackled.

But there are still many unknowns about how the virus behaves with a vaccine some way off, so milder weather might be our nearest saviour.

Hundreds of cases have been confirmed outside China, with the virus being reported in about 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as Europe, North America and the Middle East.

The toll in China is rising with 121 new deaths on Friday, bringing the toll to 1,380. Another 5,090 new cases were confirmed, pushing up the number of infected patients to 63,851.

Japan confirmed its first death from the virus on Thursday. This is the third death outside mainland China — the Philippines and Hong Kong have reported a death each.

This is a cause for concern with the fear that it could get much worse before the virus is stopped in its tracks.