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Coronavirus: The facts

Written by on 6th January 2021

Welsh Government have addressed misinformation undermining the fight against COVID-19.

There are many myths and conspiracy theories in circulation about the Coronavirus. It’s important that we all address misinformation that undermines our fight against the virus and our commitment to Keep Wales Safe, protect the NHS and ultimately, save lives.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

Misinformation, is false information, often started by someone who genuinely wants to understand a topic and cares about keeping other people safe and well. It is then shared by others who feel the same. Everyone believes they are sharing good information – but unfortunately, they are not. And depending on what is being shared, the misinformation can turn out to be quite harmful.

At the other end of the spectrum is disinformation. Unlike misinformation, this is false information created with the intention of profiting from it or causing harm. That harm could be to a person, a group of people, an organization or even a country. Disinformation generally serves some agenda and can be dangerous. During this pandemic, we are seeing it used to try to erode our trust in each other and in our government and public institutions.

In order to minimise the amount of information we are exposed to from unreliable sources, we advise you to fact check before you forward any information to others. Only share from trusted sources such as the NHS, public health agencies, government sources, World Health Organization, universities and your local council.

Below we address misconceptions by stating the facts based on current scientific evidence.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a new disease that has already infected more than 65 million people and sadly has killed over 1.5 million people worldwide. It is highly infectious and spreads quickly amongst people of all ages, and we know it has a disproportionate impact on older people, poorer people and those in ethnic minority communities.

Coronavirus is a serious risk to public health and the actions that we have taken are proportionate to the risk that it poses to people in Wales and UK.

Coronavirus is defined by the World Health Organization as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern – an extraordinary event that may constitute a public health risk to other countries through international spread of disease and may require an international coordinated response.

Can Coronavirus affect people of all ages?

Yes. Although older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease are more at risk of becoming severely ill with the virus, young people can be badly affected by Coronavirus too.

Young people who have the virus but not become seriously ill can still spread the virus to older and more vulnerable groups. This puts extra strain on our NHS and puts lives at risk.

It is therefore vital that people of all ages follow the World Health Organization’s guidance and take steps to protect themselves from the virus. This includes following good hand hygiene practice, sticking to social distancing measures, wearing masks, keeping rooms well ventilated and above all else, limiting the number of people with whom we come into contact.

We are continuing to learn about the long-term impact of Coronavirus, or ‘Long-Covid’ on all age groups.

Is Coronavirus more deadly than seasonal flu?

Yes. Last year about 1,900 people died from flu and pneumonia in Wales. Sadly, since January this year we have already seen more than 3,000 deaths involving Coronavirus and unfortunately, many more are likely to die. 

Between January and August this year across England and Wales, more than 3 times as many deaths were recorded where Coronavirus was the underlying cause compared to flu and pneumonia. 

For at least 50 years (since the Office for National Statistics started recording in 1959), the number of deaths due to flu and pneumonia  in the first 8 months of every year have been lower than the number of Coronavirus deaths seen, so far, in 2020.

We have an effective vaccine to offer everyone at risk of flu, and many more people have some immunity from prior infection.

Will a Coronavirus test show a positive result if I only have a cold or flu?

No. The Coronavirus test has been developed to detect Coronavirus only.

The swab (PCR, antigen) test for Coronavirus has been specifically developed to detect the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – and has a proven accuracy rate of 99.91%. A cold or the flu won’t cause positive tests for coronavirus, even though for some people, symptoms can be similar.

Does wearing face masks protect you and others from infection?

The scientific consensus and World Health Organization advice is that wearing a mask helps to protect those around you from fine droplets in the air which spread the virus, particularly in settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain. 

Here are the main ways you can get infected:

  • Close-range direct person-to-person transmission when someone is directly exposed to respiratory droplets and aerosols emitted by another person at <2m. These virus carrying particles can lead to virus entering the body through eyes, nasal membranes, oral mucosa, or the respiratory system via inhalation or deposition. 
  • Indirect surface contact transmission happens when someone touches a surface that has been contaminated with the virus. They may then become infected when they touch their nose, eyes or mouth with a contaminated hand or object (fomite). Surfaces can be contaminated through the deposition of respiratory droplets and by people who are infectious touching surfaces with their hands.
  • Airborne transmission occurs when small virus-containing respiratory aerosols are carried by the air and subsequently inhaled. These aerosols may be released from respiratory actions (breathing, talking, coughing etc), as well as through aerosol generating procedures in a hospital or dental environment. Airborne transmission is associated with infection beyond 2m in poorly ventilated rooms.

While wearing a mask can be uncomfortable, it is not harmful if you are fit and well. Wearing a mask does not lead to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood nor low oxygen levels.

Children under 11, and people with medical grounds for not wearing a mask are exempt. 

The Technical Advisory Group has published updated advice on face coverings.

Can the Welsh Government justify the interventions they have taken and restrictions they have imposed?

Yes. Before any decision is made by the First Minister and his colleagues, the Welsh Government draws on advice provided by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the Chief Medical Officer.  It has also established its own panel of experts, the Technical Advisory Cell (TAC), with a wider Advisory Group (TAG), providing expert advice to help manage Coronavirus, including:

  • weekly summaries of advice
  • surveillance data (including the R value)
  • reports about specific issues

The Welsh Government also takes into consideration data and evidence provided by the Office of National Statistics, the COVID-19 Moral and Ethical Advisory Group and Public Health Wales. 

The restrictions that have been put in place are designed to save lives and protect the economy where possible, while doing all we can to support people’s mental well-being.

All interventions are considered both in terms of the benefits (e.g. reduction in direct harm from Coronavirus) and disbenefits (e.g. economic harm, loneliness and isolation).

We continue to review the evidence and consider both the direct and indirect harms in view of our situation in Wales and publish the scientific evidence behind our decisions.

Will avoiding a test keep official numbers down and therefore stop new restrictions coming into force?

No. This will not prevent measures being introduced to stop the spread of the virus. The number of tests and positive cases are used to measure the scale of an outbreak in a certain area. A lack of testing might lead to an extended pandemic.

If I have mild symptoms, can I self-isolate and not take a test?

No. If you have symptoms of Coronavirus, however mild, you must self-isolate at home for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started and arrange to have a test to see if you have Coronavirus.

Testing can help confirm or not whether you have been infected with the virus (SARS-CoV-2) – regardless if you have symptoms – and whether you are at risk of spreading the infection to others. Taking measures to prevent the spread of infection is the most effective way to keep others safe such as self-isolating.

It is important to get tested for us to understand how widely the virus has spread in a community. Having a full picture allows us to plan for an increase in demand on our health service and inform our decisions on introducing further measures. It also means people who have been in close contact with you, if you are infectious, take the necessary steps to stop further transmission of the virus.

It is also important to note that if you are eligible for financial support whilst you are self-isolating, you will need to have been tested. In order to receive the payment, you or your child must have tested positive or have been contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace Protect service and formally told to self-isolate.

Once I have had the vaccine, can I go back to the normal life I had before Coronavirus?

The impact of safe and effective Coronavirus vaccines will offer individual protection as well as greater protection for our loved ones and communities. In time it could mean that restrictions are eased and we can move further towards a return to more normal day-to-day life.

Even when COVID-19 vaccines are rolled-out, it will take a while to reach everyone. You will still be asked to follow other public health measures such as socially distancing, wearing a mask and limiting social mixing.