Coronavirus: Open windows if isolating with an infected loved one, experts urge

A masked commuter waits for a train at Euston station, London. (Getty Images)

Scientists have recommended people keep rooms ventilated if a member of their household develops coronavirus symptoms.

Boris Johnson has introduced extreme restrictions that force Britons to stay at home for seven days if they come down with the tell-tale fever or cough. Other members of their household must do the same for two weeks.

Relatives caring for suspected coronavirus patients do not have access to the same personal protective equipment as NHS staff on the front-line.

A team from the University of Southampton has therefore laid out “simple evidence-based interventions” that could help reduce the spread of the virus in your home, like opening windows.

Early research suggests the coronavirus is mild in four out of five cases, however, it can trigger a respiratory disease called COVID-19.

A woman wears a mask in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Getty Images)

Coronavirus: Improve ventilation to help ward off infection

With families cooped up indoors, the highly-infectious coronavirus can easily pass from person to person.

Government guidelines state suspected or confirmed patients who live with others should stay in a different room and sleep alone, if possible.

They would also ideally use their own bathroom.

“Public health advice recommends isolation of symptomatic household members, but this can be difficult, particularly in small flats with shared facilities,” the scientists wrote in The BMJ.

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Research suggests symptoms generally appear within five days, however, the proportion of people who never show signs of the virus – but can still pass it on – is less clear.

On 3 March, the World Health Organization’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Evidence from China is only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days”.

Scientists from the University of Hong Kong scientists later claimed 12.1% of patients do not develop a fever.

Evidence that supports measures like opening windows to ward off infection is fairly limited.

The scientists argued, however, the measures also pose “little risk of harm”.

“The precautionary principle suggests we should be promoting them”, they wrote.

The scientists recommended “behaviour changes” like improving ventilation and regularly disinfecting shared surfaces.

They also advised people plan how they could isolate an infected member of their household, for example by “quarantining” them to set rooms.

This is not the first time experts have recommended people open windows amid the outbreak.

A team from the University of California, Davis, previously advised people let in fresh air to “dilute virus particles indoors”.

Research suggests the coronavirus can survive on surfaces for up to three days, depending on the material.

Air circulation may, however, “lift” the virus from surfaces and cause it to become suspended.

These particles may later settle onto frequently-touched objects, like countertops or door handles.

The California scientists therefore stressed the importance of regular hand washing, as well as disinfecting surfaces with an “alcohol-based cleaner” of between 62% and 71% ethanol.

Contaminated hands can “place” the coronavirus on a surface, or unknowingly infect an individual if they touch their eyes, nose or mouth – all entry points for the pathogen into the body.

Pulling back curtains or blinds also lets in natural light, “a free, widely-available resource” that could break the pathogen down, added the California scientists.

Studies suggest bacteria in dust become less “human associated” when exposed to light.

A flu study found the virus’ half life fell from 31.6 minutes in a dark environment to just 2.4 minutes when in simulated sunlight.

Half-life is the time it takes for half a pathogen’s particles to become inactive.

Evidence also suggests the norovirus (winter vomiting bug) is more common in the cold months because the summer’s UV light readily breaks it down.

A masked woman walks in Norena, Spain. (Getty Images)

What is the coronavirus?

The coronavirus is one of seven strains of a virus class that are known to infect humans.

Others cause everything from the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Since the outbreak was identified, more than 3.6 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Of these cases, over 1.2 million are known to have “recovered”.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 258,000.

The coronavirus mainly spreads face to face via infected droplets expelled in a cough or sneeze.

There is also evidence it is transmitted in faeces and survives on surfaces.

Symptoms include fever, cough and slight breathlessness.

The coronavirus has no “set” treatment, with most patients naturally fighting off the infection.

Those requiring hospitalisation are given “supportive care”, like ventilation, while their immune system gets to work.

Officials urge people ward off the infection by regularly washing their hands and maintaining social distancing.