In 300 words: Should Americans be worried about the coronavirus?

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The coronavirus that began in Wuhan, China, has now reached dozens of countries and it is just a matter of time before it begins to spread in the US.

So how prepared is the country?

How fast is Covid-19 spreading?

Thousands of new cases are being reported each day, and the true scale could be 10 times higher.

There are 59 confirmed cases in the US, 10 in Canada.

North American health officials say local risk remains low, but more cases are expected and this could change.

How prepared is the US?

President Donald Trump says the situation is “well under control”, while officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn the virus will spread and may severely disrupt daily life.

US health chief Alex Azar has asked Congress for $2.5bn (£1.9bn), but lawmakers say more is needed. Over $1bn would go towards developing a vaccine. The rest would fund quarantine efforts and supplies, including surgical masks. Mr Azar said the US only has 30 million – and it needs 300 million.

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Some US pharmacies are already experiencing mask shortages

The president’s political rivals have also renewed criticisms over his 2018 decision to dismantle the National Security Council global health unit. The CDC’s global health division also saw drastic cuts that year.

What are the main concerns?

High medical costs make the virus particularly problematic – many Americans avoid doctor’s visits because of unaffordable charges.

Last month, a Florida man with symptoms had a coronavirus test and was handed a $3,270 bill from his insurance company.

Taking sick leave is another concern. Not all employers offer paid leave and workplace culture often pushes employees to go to work ill.

This could contribute to the virus spreading, as infected people may not show significant symptoms for up to 14 days.

What should you do?

The virus typically begins with a fever and dry cough – rarely accompanied by sneezing or a runny nose – and leads to shortness of breath. In severe cases, it causes pneumonia and kidney failure.

You should wash your hands regularly, avoid contact with people who have respiratory illness symptoms and stay away from animals.

BBC News

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