Why are people still flying into the UK? And other questions

There have now been nearly three million coronavirus cases around the globe, and more than 200,000 deaths – 20,000 of them in the UK.

Readers have been getting in touch to ask questions about the outbreak.

Questions and answers

What's your question about?

  • Latest questions
  • All about coronavirus
  • My health conditions
  • Protecting myself and others
  • Me and my family
  • Leaving the house
  • My finances
  • Work issues

Latest questions

Your questions

Why are people still flying into UK from Italy, USA, and China? from D Cutler in Hereford

On 15 April the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that 15,000 people were still flying into the UK every day. These travellers were not tested at airports, he explained, because there was little scientific evidence that it would halt the spread of Covid-19 in the UK. What’s more, testing people who are not showing symptoms often failed to identify those with the virus.

The number of flights arriving in the UK has dropped dramatically during lockdown. Airlines say that nearly all of those on flights into the UK tend to be British people coming home, or else travellers changing planes en route to another destination.

Nevertheless, there are calls for travellers to face tougher measures before they can enter the UK. Heathrow’s chief executive asked for global standards on health checks at airports.

With key workers wearing some sort of mask, how are deaf people who lip-read supposed to understand what is being said? From Margaret Roll in Clevedon

Wearing masks has become commonplace not just in hospitals but also amongst the general public.

It presents major challenges for some deaf people who rely on lip reading to communicate, but who also need to stay safe from catching the virus, especially if in a hospital setting.

The charity Action on Hearing Loss says there are some clinically approved see-through covered face masks that help enable lip reading. However, they do not provide enough protection against aerosols spread by coronavirus, and wouldn’t be right for health and social care workers to use during this pandemic.

They say it might be worth using a small whiteboard to communicate. There are also some subtitling or captioning apps that may provide some help.

When will there be coronavirus antibody tests? from Alison May in Manchester

An antibody test shows whether someone has already had the virus. It works by looking for signs of immunity, using a drop of blood on a device that works a bit like a pregnancy test.

The government has expressed hope that antibody tests will be used to help the UK return to normal. But it has not yet found any that are reliable enough to use outside of an initial pilot trial with some members of the general public who will soon be invited to take part.

Moreover, the virus is new and little is known about it – so it’s not even certain at the moment that having antibodies in your blood means that you are immune to re-infection.

All about coronavirus

Your questions

What is the coronavirus? from Caitlin in Leeds Most asked

Coronavirus is an infectious disease discovered in China in December 2019. Its more precise name is Covid-19.

There are actually hundreds of coronaviruses – most of which circulate amongst animals, including pigs, camels, bats and cats. But there are a few – such as Covid-19 – that infect humans.

Some coronaviruses cause mild to moderate illnesses, such as the common cold. Covid-19 is among those that can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

Most infected people will have only mild symptoms – perhaps a fever, aching limbs and a cough – and will recover without special treatment.

But some older people, and those with underlying medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer are at greater risk of becoming seriously unwell.

The NHS has more about symptoms.

Once you've had coronavirus will you then be immune? from Denise Mitchell in Bicester Most asked

When people recover from an infection, their body is left with some memory of how to fight it should they encounter it again. This immunity is not always long-lasting or totally efficient, however, and can decrease over time.

It is unclear, though, if people who have recovered from coronavirus will be able to get it again.

Oxford University’s Prof Sarah Gilbert, who is working on creating a vaccine for Covid-19, says that it “probably is likely” that an infected person will be able to be reinfected in the future.

The UK government views antibody tests – which can show if a person has had Covid-19 – as central to its plans to end the current lockdown and allow people to return to work.

But the World Health Organization has said that there is no evidence that antibody tests can show that a person has immunity or is protected against reinfection.

What is the incubation period for the coronavirus? from Gillian Gibs

Scientists have said that the “incubation period” – the time between catching the virus and starting to show symptoms – is five days on average. However, some people can have symptoms earlier or much later than this.

The World Health Organization advises that the incubation period can last up to 14 days. But some researchers say it may be up to 24 days.

Knowing and understanding the incubation period is very important. It allows doctors and health authorities to introduce more effective ways to control the spread of the virus.

Is coronavirus more infectious than flu? from Merry Fitzpatrick in Sydney

Both viruses are highly contagious.

On average, it’s thought people with the coronavirus infect two to three other people, while those with flu pass it on to about one other person.

There are simple steps you can take to stop the spread of flu and coronavirus.

How long are you ill for? from Nita in Maidstone

For four out of five people Covid-19 will be a mild disease, a bit like flu.

Symptoms include a fever and dry cough. You may feel unwell for a few days but you should be back to normal within a week or so after the symptoms appear.

If the virus gets well established in the lungs it can cause breathing difficulties and pneumonia. About one in seven people may need hospital treatment.

My health conditions

Your questions

How dangerous is coronavirus for people with asthma? from Lesley-Anne in Falkirk

Asthma UK’s advice is to keep taking your daily preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed. This will help cut the risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.

Carry your blue reliever inhaler with you every day, in case you feel your asthma symptoms flaring up. If your asthma is getting worse and there is a risk you might have coronavirus, contact the online NHS 111 coronavirus service.

Are otherwise healthy disabled people more at risk from coronavirus? from Abigail Ireland in Stockport

Coronavirus can be more severe in older people and those with pre-existing conditions such as heart and lung illnesses, or diabetes.

There is no evidence that disabled people who are otherwise healthy – and who don’t, for instance, have respiratory problems – are at greater risk from coronavirus.

Will people who've have had pneumonia experience milder coronavirus symptoms? from Marje in Montreal

Covid-19 can, in a small number of cases, lead to pneumonia, most notably in people with pre-existing lung conditions.

But as this is a new virus, no-one will have any immunity to it, whether they have previously had pneumonia, or any other form of coronavirus such as Sars.

Protecting myself and others

Your questions

Why are governments going to such extreme measures to combat coronavirus when flu appears to be more deadly? from Lorraine Smith in Harlow

Quarantining cities and telling people to stay at home may seem extreme, but the alternative is to let the virus spread unrestrained.

There is no vaccine for this new virus, as there is for flu, which makes elderly people and those with underlying health conditions very vulnerable to its effects.

In China, lockdown measures appear to be working as new daily cases of the virus have now started to decline.

When will there be coronavirus antibody tests? from Alison May in Manchester

An antibody test shows whether someone has already had the virus. It works by looking for signs of immunity, using a drop of blood on a device that works a bit like a pregnancy test.

The government has expressed hope that antibody tests will be used to help the UK return to normal. But it has not yet found any that are reliable enough to use.

Moreover, it’s not even clear at the moment that the presence of antibodies guarantees you are immune.

The World Health Organization’s head of emerging diseases Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said that while the tests measure the level of antibodies in the blood, there is no evidence they can show “that an individual is immune or is protected against re-infection”.

Do we not have reusable PPE and can't it just be washed or left for three days for any present virus to die? from Chris Stone in Lancashire

All personal protective equipment (PPE) worn during the highest-risk situations – such as aprons, gloves and surgical masks – should usually be disposed of after a single use or session.

However, guidelines now say NHS staff can reuse some kit where it is safe to do so. For example, some gowns could be washed by the hospital laundry and reused.

The Health and Safety Executive says it recognises “some compromise” is needed in these “exceptional circumstances”. But doctors and nurses are not happy with this situation.

The Royal College of Nursing says its members can refuse to treat patients as a “last resort” if adequate PPE has not been provided.

What should I do if someone I live with is self-isolating? from Graham Wright in London

If you’re living with someone who’s self-isolating, you should keep all contact to a minimum and, if possible, not be in the same room together.

The person self-isolating should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, and keep away from other people in the house.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll also need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started – this is how long it can take for symptoms to appear.

If you get symptoms, self-isolate for seven days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you’re self-isolating for longer than 14 days. If you do not get symptoms, you can stop self-isolating after 14 days.

I am currently self-isolating. Can I attend a hospital appointment? from Patricia Welsh in Aylmerton, Norfolk

The current government advice is to access medical assistance remotely, wherever possible.

However, those with a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment during this period, should talk to their GP or clinician.

This is to ensure that they continue to receive the care they need and consider whether appointments can be postponed.

Should people stop having sex? from Martha Menschel in Las Vegas

If you live with your partner, they count as being part of your household. If neither of you is showing coronavirus symptoms and you are already in close contact, having sex won’t increase the likelihood of you catching the virus from one another. If one person does have symptoms, they should be self-isolating in a separate room.

Using contraception such as condoms won’t alter your risk of catching the virus, as having sex will bring you into close physical contact anyway.

“If you are going to touch each other’s genitals it’s likely that you will potentially be kissing at the same time – and we know the virus is passed through saliva,” Dr Alex George told the BBC’s Newsbeat.

“Essentially, any possibility of transfer of coronavirus – from your mouth to your hands, to genitals, to someone else’s nose or mouth – increases the risk of passing on coronavirus.”

Me and my family

Your questions

I am five months pregnant and want to understand the risk to the baby if I get infected? from a BBC website reader

Pregnant women are being advised by the UK government to stay at home and keep contact with others to a minimum. However, they should attend antenatal clinics as normal.

There is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are more likely to get coronavirus. But, for a small number of women, being pregnant may change the way their body deals with a severe viral infection.

The government’s chief medical adviser says this is a precautionary measure until scientists find out more about the virus and that “infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general”.

I am breastfeeding my five-month-old baby – what should I do if I get coronavirus? from Maeve McGoldrick

Mothers pass on protection from infection to their babies through their breast milk.

If your body is producing antibodies to fight the infection, these would be passed on through breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding mums should follow the same advice as anyone else over reducing risk – cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough, throw away used tissues straight away and wash hands frequently, while trying to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Is it possible to catch coronavirus from a pet dog or cat? from Javed

This is highly unlikely to happen, according to scientists and vets.

While there are rare cases where an animal has caught the virus from a human, there is no evidence that humans can catch the virus from animals.

It is possible that a pet’s fur could become contaminated if an infected person has previously touched or stroked the animal.

But even without the threat of coronavirus, you should always wash your hands with soap and water after handling an animal or its lead, and avoid touching your nose and mouth.

What is the risk to children? from Louise in London

In general, children appear to be relatively unaffected by coronavirus, according to data from China and other countries.

This may be because they are able to shake off the infection or have no symptoms or only very mild ones similar to a cold.

However, children with underlying lung problems, such as asthma, may have to be more careful.

All schools in the UK are currently closed, except for vulnerable pupils or children of key workers.

Leaving the house

Your questions

Can I walk my dog under the category of daily exercise? from James Leslie, Burgess Hlil Most asked

Yes you can.

According to government advice for people with animals, if you have a dog that needs walking, you should count this as the one form of exercise you take every day.

It’s important that you should remain 2m away from anyone outside your household while walking your dog. There is no guidance from the government on whether your dog should be on a lead, but the Royal Parks, for instance, urge visitors to do this, to help ensure people keep social distance.

Is there a time limit on how long we can be outside for once-a-day exercise, and are we allowed to get in our car to travel to go for a walk? from Sam Fearn, York

Government guidance is to take “one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your household”.

No mention is given to the length of exercise, although Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has said that people should “go for the standard length of run or walk that they ordinarily would have done.

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland there is no legal ban on exercising more than that. In Wales, which sets its own health regulations, exercising more than once a day is illegal – and potentially a criminal offence.

Government guidance urges people to “stay local”, and avoid unnecessary travel. However, police guidelines for England say driving to the countryside to walk is likely to be considered a reasonable excuse for travel, so long as more time is spent walking than driving.

My children live with their mother, but visit me. I live about 190 miles from them. Is it legitimate travel for me to drive to collect them? from Mark in Swansea

Yes it is.

Government guidance on staying at home says: “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”

If neither parent nor child is showing symptoms of the virus or self-isolating, children of separated parents are still allowed to stay with either of them.

However, the Family Division of the High Court has said that, in England and Wales, if one parent is worried that moving their child would be going against public health advice, they may “vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe”, even if the other parent does not agree.

Where this is the case, family courts will expect parents to allow contact by video chat or phone.

Should I wear a mask to protect myself and others from the virus? from Ann Hardman in Radcliffe, Manchester

Current UK government advice is that most people do not need to to wear masks in public. However, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has said a review of the use of face masks is ongoing.

The World Health Organization says the only people who should wear protective masks are those who are sick and showing symptoms, or caring for people suspected to have the coronavirus.

And Public Health England has said there is very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of clinical settings, such as hospitals, surgeries and care homes.

Experts say good hygiene – such as regularly washing your hands and certainly before putting them near your mouth – is vastly more effective.

My finances

Your questions

When will restrictions on house purchases be lifted? from Christian Jackson in South London

There are currently no formal restrictions on moving house, although the government has strongly advised against it where possible. It says that while there is no need to pull out of transactions, buyers and renters should delay moving so they can observe social distancing and self-isolating guidelines.

If the house you are moving into is empty, it’s fine to carry on as long as these rules are observed during the removals process. If the property is occupied, the government is encouraging the buyer and seller to find an alternative moving date further down the line.

Will lenders allow people with mortgages to delay payments during the outbreak? from Clare Waters

People affected by coronavirus will be able to delay their mortgage payments for up to three months.

It is important to bear in mind that any interest and capital repayments which are missed, will be added to the mortgage balance.

This means that any future monthly mortgage bills are likely to be slightly higher.

How do you get gas and electricity if you are on a pre-payment meter and can't get to a post office to top it up? from David E P Dennis

Energy companies have promised to help you if you have a pre-payment meter. So you may be able to authorise a friend to top up your energy card for you.

You could also ask your supplier to send you a card by post which is already topped up. The government says that if it’s urgent the supplier should be able to add credit directly to your account. You should be able to top up online as well.

And you will have to pay back any credit your supplier gives you. So you should contact them to ask about when and how to do this.

What should I do as I have not received a refund for a cancelled flight? From Susan in Offley

If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund to the original form of payment within seven days, although many airlines are struggling to meet that deadline.

Ryanair, for example, says customers who want a cash refund will receive it ”in due course” as it is dealing with a much higher volume of requests than usual, with fewer staff.

Many airlines are trying to avoid giving refunds and are offering vouchers for another flight or a free re-booking instead.

If the airline later folds, the voucher will probably become invalid. And any re-booking could affect the terms of your travel insurance.

Work issues

Your questions

My company wants me to return to work on 1 May but this is still within the lockdown period. Is this legal? From Jim Bridgeman in Kettering

The government has said that everyone should work from home if possible, and only go into a workplace if their job “absolutely cannot be done from home”.

Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. If you or a member of your household have an underlying health condition which increases vulnerability to coronavirus, you could argue that you have a right not to come into work.

If you still do not want to go in, you could ask to take time off as holiday or unexpected leave, but your employer does not have to agree to this.

An employer could bring disciplinary action against an employee who they consider to be refusing to work without a good reason.

I'm self-employed. Can I claim benefits if I can't work due to the virus? from Mark Gribby in Nottingham

Self-employed people who have symptoms or have been told to self-isolate may apply for two benefits – universal credit or employment and support allowance.

Normally, you would be eligible after four days of being ill. However, the government has responded to the spread of coronavirus by saying that companies will temporarily pay SSP from the first day off.

But charities are worried that there is still a five-week delay before universal credit is paid.

What if you're not on a salary and can't work from home if your workplace closes? from Joseph in Glasgow

If you are employed, your employer has an obligation to pay your Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks.

Normally, you would be eligible after four days of being ill. However, the government has responded to the spread of coronavirus by saying that companies will temporarily pay SSP from the first day off.

In the case of small and medium-sized employers, the government will fund sick pay for the first 14 days.

Eligible employees are entitled to £95.85 a week.

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