Doctors have warned the London tube could be a hotbed for the spread of the strain of coronavirus known as Covid-19 (Picture: PA/Getty)

How to protect yourself from coronavirus on the London Underground


Coronavirus has hit London, sparking fears that the deadly illness may spread like wildfire on the tube.

While experts have advised people in the UK capital to go about their business as usual, the development is bound to have some concerned for cramped rush-hour journeys in which they are forced to get alarmingly close with complete strangers.

In fact, the question running through many Londoners’ minds is likely to be: how do I protect myself on the underground?

While there is no official tube-specific advice out there, the World Health Organisation and NHS have both set out trustworthy guidelines to prevent people from catching the illness, which has killed 1,380 people and infected more than 63,000.
Experts have cast doubt over how effective face masks are in preventing the spread of the virus (Picture: Jeff Moore)

How can I protect myself on the tube?

There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus and the NHS is advising people to avoid close contact with individuals who are unwell.

This is tricky when symptoms often don’t appear for two to 14 days after someone contracts the virus, with some cases reportedly not showing for 24 days in China.

However, the public health service says there are basic things that all travellers should do to lower their chances of becoming infected.

Experts have told people across the UK to avoid covering their mouth and nose with their hand when they sneeze, instead using a tissue or a sleeve.

After sneezing, make sure to hold the used tissue for the remainder of the tube journey and put it in a bin at the first opportunity.

People hoping to avoid illness should wash their hands with soap and water often and use hand sanitiser if this is not available.

They should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth too much as there’s a chance the illness could be transferred from surfaces.
Good hygiene is key in stopping coronavirus (Picture: Getty Images)

Should I wear a face mask?

As the coronavirus crisis grows, it seems more Londoners are being spotted wearing face masks – but unfortunately, they may not be the saving grace some people believe them to be.

Health officials have raised doubts over the effectiveness of using the masks to protect against the virus.

The type of face masks being regularly used by the public are surgical masks which are loose fitting, intended for short periods and ‘do not offer great protection with extended use’, says the Science Media Centre.

The WHO has also warned that the run on face masks and other protective equipment could make it harder for those on the frontline tackling the disease.

Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses, Public Health England, said there is ‘very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use’ outside of clinical settings.

He added: ‘People concerned about the transmission of infectious diseases would do better to prioritise good personal, respiratory and hand hygiene.’
A Japanese tourist wears a ‘Virus BlockerPlus’ chemical sachet, which is alleged to kill viruses, as he travels on the Bakerloo line of the London Underground network (Picture: PA)

How close should I get to people on the underground?

It’s a sad fact that we are often forced to get closer than we would like to to other commuters – but should we be extra careful about keeping our distance now?

The World Health Organisation has advised that people maintain at least a one metre (three feet) distance between themselves and other people, particularly those who are coughing, sneezing and have a fever.

This is because when someone who is infected with a respiratory disease, like 2019-nCoV, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus.

However, Professor John Oxford, from Queen Mary University, has theorised that coronavirus could be a ‘social virus’ and has advised people to think more so about their social interactions.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘What we need to do is less of the handshaking, hugging, kissing, that sort of thing, because this virus looks like it’s spread by ordinary tidal breathing, not necessarily colds, sneezing and coughing.’
A staff member works in a laboratory in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province (Picture: CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/REX)

What should I do if I have symptoms?

Coronavirus symptoms include coughing, a high temperature and shortness of breath.

If you have symptoms of infection and believe there’s a chance you could have been exposed to the deadly virus, quarantine yourself straight away.

Do not under any circumstances travel to the hospital or your doctor’s surgery as this may pose a risk to others.

Instead, phone NHS helpline 111 and tell professionals about any recent travel and any symptoms you have.