With new cases of coronavirus being confirmed every day, people up and down the country are being extra vigilant.

According to the NHS, the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) – which has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people worldwide, are a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath. But these symptoms are similar to the common cold – so how do you tell if you’ve got a common cold or the virus?

Professor Sian Griffiths, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the BBC that the only way to tell for certain is to take the test. However, there are some things you can look out for which may give you an idea that your cough might be something to worry about.

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Asked how to tell the difference, she said: “Through the test, unless your symptoms go on to develop into chest disease and then you’re more likely to have coronavirus.

“The symptoms tend to be fever, shortness of breath and a cough and a cold will probably have a runnier nose than that. But it’s not foolproof and that’s why the test is being done. There is a whole lot of testing being done through GPs and hospitals at the moment by Public Health England to see if we’re missing any cases.”

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One of the other issues being discussed at length is whether it’s safe to shake hands. No official warning has been issued in Malta, but France has advised its residents to avoid doing it and Switzerland has told people to drop their everyday greeting of kissing on the cheek.

But many medical experts are saying it might be time to start thinking about cutting the handshake. GP Dr Rosemary Leonard told the BBC: “When we all walked into the BBC this morning, the charming people at the desk were all shaking our hands. I know it’s very British and very polite, we probably ought to stop shaking hands.”

The broadcaster’s health correspondent Fergus Walsh agrees, and also warned that gloves won’t solve the problem. He said: “Gloves might help unless you then then suddenly touch your face, and you’ll be passing on maybe a whole load of germs that way.

“We maybe ought to start thinking about not shaking hands any more. The French have advised that French citizens don’t kiss on the cheek so maybe we should be careful about who we kiss.”

How to protect yourself from Coronavirus

There are a number of things you can do to decrease your risk of picked up the virus as you go about your day to day life.

They include:

  • Washing your hands regularly – this should be done soap for at least 20 seconds
  • If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitiser gel
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – not your hand. Put the tissue in the bin straight away and wash your hands
  • Avoid contact with people who are unwell.