Here's why you shouldn't travel during the coronavirus pandemic, even within the UK

Leaders in rural England, Wales and Scotland are calling on the government for help to stem a flood of people travelling from cities amid the impending threat of coronavirus.

Many are seeking an escape from urban coronavirus hotspots by heading to stay at holiday homes or with relatives, and the exodus has led to fears that more people could get sick in rural areas and potentially overwhelm local health service.

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The Scottish government's rural economy and tourism secretary Fergus Ewing, said: "I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highland and Islands. This has to stop now.

"Let me be crystal clear, people should not be travelling to rural and island communities, full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel.

"Panic buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural shops and potentially puts unwanted pressure on NHS services in our rural communities."

Despite calls for a nationwide lockdown and social distancing, beaches and beauty sports in Brighton, Cornwall, Devon, East Yorkshire and West Sussex all saw large footfall throughout Saturday, while Snowdonia National Park says it experienced its busiest visitor day “in living memory."

The National Trust has closed all of its parks and gardens after also reporting large turnouts.

Can I travel to other parts of the UK?

Technically, at the time of writing, citizens in the UK are free to travel to wherever they please.

However, under government advice, you might want to rearrange that planned trip to your favourite holiday cottage.

That's because the population is currently being told to practice "social distancing" to help slow the spread of the virus.

Social distancing measures are steps you can take to reduce social interaction between people.

Essentially, that means to avoid all social contact with others, and to not travel unless it is absolutely necessary to do so.

Here's how you should social distance:

Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous coughAvoid non-essential use of public transport when possibleWork from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do thisAvoid large and small gatherings in public spaces, noting that pubs, restaurants, leisure centres and similar venues are currently shut as infections spread easily in closed spaces where people gather togetherAvoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social mediaUse telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

For more information on social distancing, head to the government's website

What will happen if I do travel?

With many flouting the advice put in place by the government, the UK could follow the examples set by its European counterparts and introduce tougher controls.

Speaking to Sky News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This is not the sort of thing that anybody would want to do but, of course, it is the sort of thing we might have to do in order to protect life.

"If you do go out, you must not get closer than two metres from someone who isn't in your household.

"It is a really simple rule and incredibly important, because to protect life and the NHS we need to stop the spread of this virus and the virus spreads by people coming into close contact with each other."

"Nothing is off the table" in terms of the future action which could be taken, adding: "I do not want to pre-judge the discussions we will have today to make a decision on those things. Ultimately, it is a decision for the prime minister.

"I advise him on what I think needs to happen and I am really clear, people need to stay more than two metres apart. We have got to see that happen because that is the only way to protect life."

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread.

But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.

Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised.

Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness.

Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat.

It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly.

The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.

Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 16 March the government advised that everyone should be observing social distancing - avoiding unnecessary travel and working from home where possible.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms now needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants and theatres to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis.

Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate.

People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel.

Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS