The virus, officially named Covid-19, is now evident in more than 120 countries, prompting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to impose more stringent travel restrictions.
Can I still travel in the UK?
The FCO has updated its advice to say that all non-essential travel within the UK should be avoided in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The travel ban initially only applied to international travel, but the new guidance now advises against holidays within the UK.
The guidelines state: “Following on from the government’s guidance on social distancing in relation to COVID-19, people should avoid travelling unless it is essential.
“This guidance is for people planning to visit second homes or holiday premises during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People should remain in their primary residence.
“Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk.”
What other restrictions are in place?
The FCO has advised British citizens against all non-essential travel worldwide, with this advice in effect from Tuesday 17 March 2020. The advice initially applies for a period of 30 days.
The guidance has been issued to reflect the pace at which other countries are either closing their borders, or implementing restrictive measures, in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has already led to numerous international border closures and restrictions, and the FCO warns that all countries may restrict travel without notice.
US President Donald Trump extended the European travel ban to include the UK and Ireland as of Monday 16 March 2020, with the ban now covering 26 countries, all of which are members of the Schengen free movement zone.
Numerous other countries also have travel restrictions in place that may affect UK citizens, including quarantine measures, border closures, flight suspensions and health screenings.
Europe is now the epicentre of the outbreak, which originated in Wuhan in China, prompting several European countries to impose restrictions, including popular tourist destinations such as Spain, France and Portugal.
What does ‘non-essential travel’ mean?
The FCO can advise against all but essential travel to a particular destination, but whether travel is classed as ‘essential’ or not is a decision that rests upon individuals themselves.
‘Essential’ travel could include urgent family or business commitments, with circumstances differing from person to person. The FCO says that only you can make an informed decision based on the risks.
No travel is completely safe, but the official advice always aims to put individuals’ safety first, based on objective judgements.
The FCO says it will advise against all but essential travel when it judges the level of risk to be unacceptably high.
British citizens who decide that they do still need to travel abroad are warned to be fully aware of the increased risks in doing so, including the possibility they may not be able to get home if restrictions are put in place.
Those who are still considering travel should be realistic about the level of disruption they are willing and able to endure.
The FCO is currently not advising British people to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas, except for a few countries that are listed in its latest travel advice.
However, travellers are urged to be mindful that flights could be cancelled at short notice, or other travel restrictions may be put in place by foreign governments.
If you are currently abroad and wish to leave the country you are in, you should contact your airline or travel company, and your insurance provider, as soon as possible.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family. Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.
For more information on government advice, please check their website gov.uk
Should I avoid public places?
You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. 111.nhs.uk/covid-19
When to call NHS 111
NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS