Could the deadly coronavirus spread to Northern Ireland and how worried should we be?

Experts believe a deadly virus which originated in China could spread across the world.

What is the coronavirus?

The strain, which originated in Wuhan in Hubei province, China, has never been encountered before.

Like many other coronaviruses, it is carried by animals - in this instance it is believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhun, China where other animals, such as bats, were being bought by people to eat.

Earlier this week, China confirmed its first case of human-to-human spread of the virus.

All 11 million people living in Wuhun have been ordered by the authorities to remain indoors.

The authorities have also suspended all public transport into and out of Wuhan.

The same measures have also been deployed in the nearby city of Huanggang which has a population of seven million people.

Could this coronavirus reach Northern Ireland?

Yes.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, made a statement in the House of Commons on Thursday during which he admitted "there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country".

"The chief medical officer has revised the risk to the UK population from 'very low' to 'low' and has concluded that while there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise in this country, we are well prepared and well equipped to deal with them," said Mr. Hancock.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, told the House of Commons on Thursday that "there is an increased likelihood that cases may arise" in the United Kingdom.

Experts also believe the rate at which the virus has spread could spike as hundreds of thousands of Chinese people return home to celebrate the Chinese New Year on Saturday January 25, 2020.

How worried should people in Northern Ireland be?

This particular coronavirus has already spread from China to several other countries including South Korea, USA, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand (all of which have reported one case each).

However, it's important to note that whilst it appears the virus will inevitably spread to the UK, the chief medical officer has raised the threat to the population from 'very low' to 'low'.

This particular strain has never been seen before.

How many people have died?

The latest information coming out of China has the death toll at 17 but Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP believes this will increase.

“All the fatalities have so far been contained to mainland China, however, this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further,” said Mr. Hancock in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Like many other viruses, this coronavirus appears to be common amongst older people and people with underlying health problems however the latest information coming from China has had people aged between 15 and 88 all testing positive.

The latest information has the total number of cases in China at approximately 500 however experts in the UK believe it could be up into the thousands.

What are the symptoms?

Like the common cold, there is no specific treatment for this coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation lists the following symptoms:

- fever

- fatigue

- sore throat

- dry cough

- difficulty breathing

Can the coronavirus be treated?

Much like the common cold, there is no specific treatment for coronaviruses.

Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of infection?

Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of emerging infectious diseases at the WHO, said basic hand hygiene was a straightforward way of reducing the risk of catching the virus.

“Coronaviruses typically cause respiratory symptoms so we recommend basic hand hygiene such as washing hands in soap and water and respiratory hygiene so when you sneeze, sneeze into your elbow.”

(This is a developing story - updates to follow)