Coronavirus: 12 more of your questions answered by experts

Infection, travel, self-isolation, asthma, vaping, and the transmission of Covid-19

The answers below are for general guidance only. They are not a substitute for personal advice given by your own doctor, solicitor or other professional

1) Will

Question: "Will shops stay open as normal? I work in a shop part-time alongside college. I obviously come into contact with a lot of people which is making me feel quite uncomfortable and at risk."

Answer: As it stands, there have been no restrictions placed on shops. But things can change very quickly as we saw when the Government moved fast to close pubs after seeing many people disregard the calls for social distancing. Based on what has happened in other countries which look to be further along the coronavirus curve than Ireland, non-essential shops could be closed in the days ahead. That is by no means certain however. Supermarkets and other food shops and places deemed to be essential for life to continue will remain open. The way those shops will look is likely to change dramatically. Based on what is happening in other countries, there are likely to be restrictions on how many people are allowed to be in a shop at any one time. Limits on the amount of certain stock which can be bought are likely to be introduced and while the type of stock on the shelves is likely to be reconfigured to focus on essential goods.

2) Niamh

Question: "I have a wedding invitation, less than 100 people. I am not sure whether to accept or not as I am four months pregnant. I understand that so far there is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are an at-risk group. However, based on what I know about regular flu and its potential impact on pregnancy (I have had the flu vaccine), I am hesitant and feel I may be safer to err on the side of caution as at this stage so much is still unknown. Can you offer any advice?"


Answer: As you say, there are no indications that pregnant women are in an at-high-risk group at this stage. But that is neither here nor there when you are making your decision, which ultimately is very personal. It remains to be seen what will happen in the days ahead but our advice would be if you are uncomfortable about going anywhere, stay at home.

3) Patrick

Question: "When a person coughs or sneezes, does the virus hover in the air or does it fall to the floor? Can you catch the virus walking in the street or park when no one is near you? Does it float in the air?"

Answer: The evidence so far indicates that the Covid-19 virus is primarily transmitted in droplets following coughing/sneezing, according to Prof Ultan Power, professor of molecular virology at Queen's University Belfast. "Droplets are normally too big to float in the air. However, they will drop on surfaces and if you touch these surfaces and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, you will be infected. Hence, the great importance of good hand hygiene to prevent transmission," says Prof Power.

4) Michele

Question: "My 15-year-old daughter has asthma since she was very young. It seems to be under control as she takes one puff of Flixitide 125mg morning and night and only uses ventolin when needed which thankfully isn't often. Is she considered to have a serious underlying condition in relation to Covid-19?"

Answer: "Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition; so it is a risk factor," says Dr Nick Breen, Greystones GP and lecturer in general practice at University College Dublin. "My advice is to keep your asthma well-controlled, double your preventer at the first sign of any symptoms and contact your GP if the asthma gets any worse."

5) Síle

Question: "Should I travel to a health resort in Thailand? It's on one of the islands which hasn't been hit by coronavirus yet. They are testing everyone who arrived."

Answer: Travelling anywhere at present contains a risk. We are not just talking about the risk of contracting coronavirus while you are there. Some of the questions we would ask ourselves in this situation would be:

1. What happens if I contract the virus while I am there?

2. What if I already have the virus and fall ill while I am there? If that happens, how will I get home? How will I be treated while I am away?

3. With all the restrictions on air travel across the world, will I be able to go home?

It is also worth pointing out that the Department of Foreign Affairs has simplified its travel advice and is warning all Irish residents against any non-essential travel overseas. Those who arrive at Irish airports will now be asked to restrict their movements for two weeks.

6) Fiona

Question: "I live in Dublin with my partner and our tenant who travelled to Spain in recent weeks. She works in childcare, my partner in retail and myself in finance. My family live in Co Laois and I stay a night down there every second weekend. No one in my immediate family are or seem vulnerable healthwise. Should I still avoid visiting them and for how long? (I commute by car)."

Answer: Social distancing measures need to be taken seriously by everyone for the next several weeks. While that does not mean you can't leave your home, it might be a good idea to avoid all non-essential trips and interactions. Again, we can't tell people what to do, but were we in your situation we would avoid trips to meet family and communicate with them via Facetime and Skype and the good old-fashioned telephone.

7) Andrea

Question: "How many people have contracted the virus twice and if you have had it and got through it, can you still be a carrier?"

Answer: There is no convincing evidence available yet to suggest that you can be infected twice with this virus, explains Prof Power. "It is possible that you may still be a carrier after recovery, as virus may be shed over a month following infection. However, we do not know yet what impact this has on overall virus transmission, as the means by which the Covid-19 virus was detected (RT-PCR) does not distinguish between live infectious virus and inactivated virus."

8) Niall

Question: "My wife and I are self-isolating. Would it be safe for us to have a woman come in to clean our house if we left while she was there?"

Answer: Safe for who? If you are self-isolating because you think you may have contracted the virus than it certainly doesn't seem like it would be safe for this woman to come into your home to clean unless she was properly kitted out with gear to protect her. If you are self-isolating because you are in an at-risk category, then it might not be safe for you either if – heaven forbid – she has the virus. All things considered, then, what we would do is hold off on the cleaning (from outside) for a while.

9) Kathleen

Question: "Hi, just checking about flights for myself, husband and two adult children booked at end of February to Madrid for May 9th for weekend with Aer Lingus. Following Government advise I have applied for cancellation and refund to Aer Lingus directly. Heard nothing back. Will I be reimbursed by them? I have multitrip insurance for myself and husband but not other two in party. Really appreciate your advice as I am not a frequent flyer and not too familiar with this situation."

Answer: If there is an official warning against non-essential travel to a country then you should be able to get a refund from the airline. All airlines are being inundated with requests and cancellations so it is perhaps understandable that there have been delays in making contact with passengers. You have time on your side given that the flights are not until May. Stick with it, unless things change dramatically, then the advisory against travel will most likely still be in place for weeks and you should be able to get the refund.

10) Laoise

Question: "I'm on holidays in Budapest, should I come home early? My flight home is booked for this week, but connects through France. "

Answer: There are restrictions across Europe and the world. Individual countries are imposing bans on travel and that is changing by the day. Keep an eye on the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Hungarian government to see what they are saying. To be honest, you might be happier coming home.

11) Jill

Question: "When is Covid-19 contagious and can you be spreading the virus even if you are showing no symptoms? I hope you answer this one as I've read so many differing answers."

Answer: Prof Power says the evidence suggests you may be shedding the virus up to two days before symptoms start, ie asymptomatic transmission. "As indicated above, you may also shed the virus for a month or more following recovery. However, it is still not clear how much this asymptomatic transmission adds to the overall levels of infection. It is likely that symptomatic transmission accounts for the greater bulk of transmitting the virus to other people. Therefore, personal hygiene practices while you are ill is of the upmost importance to limit the spread of the virus. Evidently, healthcare workers and family are most at risk."

12) David

Question: "There has been little consideration of the risk of the spread of coronavirus through vaping. On numerous mornings in Dublin city I have seen people vaping at bus stops and the trail of their exhalation clearly defined in the cold air as it streams past anyone unfortunate to be downwind of the source. Is there any added risk of contagion and if so should we be recommending that people vaping do not do so in close proximity to other commuters?"

Answer: "I am not aware of any evidence that vaping will increase transmission of Covid-19 above and beyond the transmission through droplets from coughing/sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces," says Prof Power. "I suppose one advantage with vaping is that you can see the droplets coming at you and can avoid them. With regards to those who use vaping, there is evidence from other respiratory viruses to suggest that vaping may impair the lungs' ability to fight off infections. I would suspect that this will be the same for Covid-19, but this remains to be proven."

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment