Coronavirus: is it safe to go to the supermarket?

Customers wearing face masks and gloves amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, shop at a supermarket in the Libyan capital on March 25, 2020. - Libya has reported its first case of the novel coronavirus, a particular source of concern in the North African country where civil war has badly degraded the public healthcare system. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP via Getty Images)

With Britons being told to stay indoors as much as possible amid the coronavirus outbreak, many may be wondering whether a trip to the supermarket is safe.

Boris Johnson enforced draconian measures on Monday evening, stressing people are only to venture out for "very limited purposes", including "shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible".

The prime minister urged the public to take advantage of food delivery services, however, this may be easier said than done.

Ocado is placing customers in an over four hour queue to do an online shop, while Tesco has no delivery slots available until at least mid-April in certain areas.

With many forced to head to the shops for food, are supermarkets hotspots for the coronavirus?

31 PHOTOS
Pictures of the week: March 22 - 28
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Pictures of the week: March 22 - 28
Sean (no surname given) asks for money so he can pay for a hostel for the night in Wolverhampton city centre as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A Sussex Police van moves amongst people walking along the promenade in Brighton as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Members of the public jog down Portobello Road in Notting Hill, London as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police stop motorists as they travel on Park Street, Bristol, where random checks on essential travel are taking place as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Information screens saluting local heroes on a main road passing Canary Wharf in east London as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Police patrol Park Street, Bristol, where they are checking the movement of people as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Men's toilet facilities at the Strensham Services in Worcestershire where alternate urinals are out of use to maintain social distancing as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Members of the public wearing masks queue to enter shops in Melton Mowbray as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Tape marks out 2 metre sections on the floor to implement social distancing measures at a Tesco store in Peterborough, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A deserted Piccadilly Circus during morning rush hour after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Customers queue between social distancing markers on the pavement outside a supermarket in Westminster, London after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A London bus driver wearing a protective face mask on Westminster Bridge, London, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the decision to put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A man walks in Canary Wharf, London during rush hour, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
British Airways planes parked on the tarmac at Glasgow Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Postal delivery worker Matt delivers mail in the village of Ironbridge in Shropshire, while his customers have to stay at home, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Information signs advise people to take essential travel only on the Queensferry Crossing, near Edinburgh, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Baby Laggar falcons at The International Centre for Birds of Prey in Newent, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A man wearing a protective face mask walks in Canary Wharf, London during rush hour, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Simon Cotterill, Head Teacher of Manor Park School and Nursery in Knutsford Cheshire, sits in an empty classroom, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A couple hug on the steps on The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A view of Lakeside Retail Park in Thurrock, Essex, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A quiet Canary Wharf Underground Station, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A couple wearing protevtive equipment walk by the Bullring in Birmingham, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Skegness pier is closed, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A man walks in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A sign from the Royak Parks notifying the public about social distancing at the Piccadilly entrance to Green Park, London, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government is ready to impose tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus if people do not follow the guidance on social distancing.
Hospital staff and ambulance staff prepare to take a patient into the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the Government is ready to impose tougher restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus if people do not follow the guidance on social distancing.
A dog walker looks at the signage the entrance for Osterley Park and House in Isleworth, London, after The National Trust announced it has shut down all of its parks and and gardens across the UK until further notice.
British Airways aircraft parked at Bournemouth airport where they are expected to remain after the airline reduced flights amid travel restrictions and a huge drop in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Drivers form a long queue to use a McDonald's drive-thru near Dover in Kent as it was announced that all of their restaurant locations in the UK and Ireland will close by 7pm on Monday to protect the safety of their employees and customers from coronavirus.
Emily, 9, sits at her desk at home on the first day of home schooling after schools shut on Friday due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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The new coronavirus is thought to have emerged at a seafood and live animal market in the Chinese city Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, at the end of last year.

Since the outbreak was identified, more than 441,100 cases have been confirmed worldwide, of whom over 111,900 have "recovered" to date, according to John Hopkins University.

Globally, the death toll has exceeded 19,700.

Cases have been plateauing in China since the end of February, with Europe now the epicentre of the pandemic.

The UK has had more than 8,300 confirmed cases and 440 deaths.

Coronavirus: are supermarkets a hotspot for infection?

Supermarkets, and any confined space with lots of people, could leave shoppers vulnerable to infection.

The government has urged anyone with the coronavirus' tell-tale fever or cough to self-isolate entirely for seven days, not even venturing out to buy food.

Every member of their household has been told to do the same for 14 days.

The situation becomes more complex when you remember not all patients are thought to develop symptoms, an issue which has been hotly debated.

On 3 March, the World Health Organisation's director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Evidence from China is only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms".

Scientists from The University of Hong Kong scientists later claimed 12.1% of patients are not thought to develop a fever.

"Let's assume asymptomatic patients are also spreaders," said Dr James Gill from the University of Warwick.

"If you go to the shops for a few items and encounter 30 people, which is reasonable in a big supermarket, you could potentially be exposed to people infected with the virus who are not showing signs."

The coronavirus mainly spreads face-to-face via infected droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out.

Asymptomatic patients may not be coughing or sneezing, which could mean they pass the infection on less readily.

As well as being airborne, research suggests the coronavirus can survive for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

People may "pick up" the virus and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, unwittingly infecting themselves.

"Any virus contamination would come from someone who has contaminated hands", said Professor Sally Bloomfield from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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Britain before and after coronavirus lockdown
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Britain before and after coronavirus lockdown
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Bournemouth beach on 28/06/19 (top), and on Monday 23/03/20 (bottom), the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on 28/01/14 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Jubilee Line platform on 31/01/13 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's Tower Bridge on 16/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of commuters at Waterloo station in London on 12/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Comedy about a Bank Robbery in line outside the Criterion Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of of commuters crossing London Bridge on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of London's Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard on 13/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Bournemouth beach on 14/09/19 (top), and on Monday 23/03/20 (bottom), the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of people walking across the Millennium Bridge, London, with St Paul's Cathedral in the background, on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Station on 17/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in line outside the Palace Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of London's Canary Wharf Station on 17/03/20 (top), and on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of visitors to Leicester Square, London, on 13/03/20 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20, (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of ticket holders for Ticket holders for Come from Away in line outside the Phoenix Theatre, London on 12/03/20 (top), and the theatre on Tuesday 24/03/20 (bottom), the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of Edinburgh's Royal Mile on 14/03/20, and on Saturday (21/03/20) after bars, pubs and restaurants were instructed to close. Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown on Monday night to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of people on the beach at Barry Island, South Wales, on 14/09/19 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Composite photos of people on the beach at Barry Island, South Wales, on 19/06/17 (top), and on Wednesday 25/03/20 (bottom), after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A composite image of the streets in the centre of Bath busy with visitors and shoppers on 11/03/20 (top) and the empty streets on Tuesday 24/03/20 the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
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"Although hands and hand-contact surfaces are thought to be a major contributor to spread, the main risk comes from 'hand-contact surfaces recently and frequently touched by many other people'.

"If you think about it, the supermarket provides an ideal setting for this to occur – many people touching and replacing items, checkout belts, cash cards, carpark ticket machine buttons, ATM payment buttons, paper receipts – not to mention being in the proximity of several other people".

In an ideal scenario, all food would be dropped off at our front door.

"Food delivered to the home can be done via 'no contact drops', reducing direct exposure to whoever is dropping off the food", said Dr Gill.

This may include asking the delivery driver to leave the shopping on the doorstep, rather than handing it over.

Theoretically, the virus could survive on packaging if bagged by contaminated hands.

"Initially the longevity of the virus may cause concern over home deliveries, until we remember that wiping over surfaces with simple dilute household bleach will inactivate the virus within one minute," said Dr Gill.

"Food deliveries will carry a lower risk of exposure than going to the supermarket, and most people have bleach and a cloth to be able to wipe over those home deliveries, effectively eliminating risk".

Professor Bloomfield stressed the likelihood of delivery shopping carrying the coronavirus is low.

"The items have probably been touched by relatively few people", she said.

"If you want to take further precautions then place all the items in cupboards, fridge etc, where any residual viral infectivity will further decrease before you handle it again, and then wash your hands thoroughly.

"Remember there is no such thing as zero risk".

For those unable to secure a home delivery slot, remember regular hand washing and social distancing are the most effective ways to ward off infection.

Yahoo UK previously reported on the risk of picking up colds and flu at the supermarket, with these pathogens thought to transmit in the same way as the coronavirus.

"People often load the shopping in the car, get home hungry and open a bag of crisps, not realising their hands are dirty," said Dr Lisa Ackerley, chartered environmental health practitioner and spokesperson for Jakemans.

Being in the comfort of our own vehicle may also encourage complacency.

"When we're in a car, we're in our own bubble and may rub our eyes as we drive along," added Dr Ackerley.

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What is the coronavirus?

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

Others include the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed 774 people during its 2002/3 outbreak.

Early research suggests four out of five cases are mild.

In severe incidences, pneumonia can come about if the infection spreads to the air sacs in the lungs, causing them to become inflamed and filled with fluid or pus.

The lungs then struggle to draw in air, resulting in reduced oxygen in the bloodstream and a build-up of carbon dioxide.

The coronavirus has no "set" treatment, with most patients' immune systems fighting off the virus naturally.

In severe cases, hospitalisation may be required if a patient needs "supportive care".

This may include ventilation while their immune system gets to work.

While coughs and sneezes are the main routes of infection, there is also evidence the coronavirus may be transmitted in faeces and urine.

- This article first appeared on Yahoo

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