Borders have closed, high profile sports competitions halted, companies of all sizes have been forced to downscale and scores of people around the world have gone into self-isolation as fears over coronavirus (Covid-19) grows.

The latest figures available on Wednesday morning showed that there had been more than 197,000 cases reported internationally, including 7949 deaths. More than 81,000 people were deemed to have "recovered" from the virus.

In New Zealand there are 12 confirmed cases. That number includes four additional cases confirmed yesterday, with two each reported in Wellington and Dunedin.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week described the outbreak as a pandemic, with its chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calling on governments to take "urgent and aggressive action" to try to stem its spread.

The outbreak has now been described as a global pandemic due to its spread in numerous nations around the world at the same time.

Amid the outbreak various "theories" have been bandied around, most notably online, on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

How can you flatten the curve?

  • Stay at home if you are unwell
  • Avoid large crowds
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Reduce physical contact

Some sound stranger than fiction, and the WHO says there are good reasons for that.

• Can cold weather kill the new coronavirus?

The WHO states there is no evidence that the climate you live in, or are visiting, will have any impact on your chances of getting, or avoiding, Covid-19. That includes claims that cold weather, and being in snowy environments, can reduce your chances of contracting the illness. The WHO stresses "the most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water".

• Does taking a hot bath reduce your chances of getting sick?

Nonsense, says the WHO. The best advice is again to regularly clean your hands to eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth and nose. The WHO wisely adds "taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you".

• Can the virus be transmitted through mosquito bites?

As yet there is no evidence to show mosquito bites can spread Covid-19. As it is a respiratory illness, it spreads through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose.

• Are hand dryers solely effective in killing Covid-19?

Again, the WHO has rubbished these suggestions. And again, it recommends using an alcohol-based hand rub or cleaning hands with soap and water. Once cleaned, you should dry them by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.

Supermarket shoppers on Auckland's North Shore reacted swiftly to the Coronavirus fears late last month. New Zealand Herald photograph / Amelia Wade
Supermarket shoppers on Auckland's North Shore reacted swiftly to the Coronavirus fears late last month. New Zealand Herald photograph / Amelia Wade

• Does adding garlic to your diet prevent infection?

In times gone by, eating garlic might have been used as a way to ward off vampires. The WHO says while garlic was a "healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties", there was no evidence that eating it protected people from Covid-19.

• If I sprayed alcohol or chlorine over my body, will it kill the virus?

Alcohol based hand rubs will help keep you germ free. But spraying alcohol or chlorine over your body will not kill any viruses which have entered your body. In fact, doing so can be harmful to mucous membranes (including eyes and the mouth).

• Can pets spread the virus?

The WHO says there is no evidence that a dog, cat or any other pet can transmit Covid-19. Fears had previously spread that pets could transmit the virus after a dog became infected in Hong Kong.

• Is it safe to accept a package from an area where the virus has been reported?

Yes, it is safe. The WHO says the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is "low". It also states that the risk of catching the virus that caused Covid-19 from a package that has "been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is low".

• Does wearing a face mask keep you safe?

No. The WHO states mask are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning. And if you are healthy, you only need to wear one if you are taking care of a person with a suspected Covid-19 infection. Masks should be worn if you are coughing and sneezing. And the WHO also says it is imperative you know how to put on, use, take off and dispose of a mask properly. That includes ensuring your hands are cleaned both before you put one on, and after you have disposed of a mask.

• Vaccines against pneumonia will protect me?

Again, the answer is no. The WHO says "the virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts". While vaccines against pneumonia won't protect against the current virus, the WHO added "vaccinations against respiratory illnesses are highly recommended to protect your health".