Coronavirus has claimed thousands of lives and devastated economies across the globe over the course of this year.

In many ways the disease has struck at a particularly bad time for the UK, with trust in politicians and politics at an all time low.

The big social media companies are also in the midst of a crisis in how to tackle disinformation and conspiracy theories, while trust in the media is also at historic lows.

At a time where the population sorely needs to pull together and act collectively, damaging and false theories about the virus are a constant thorn in the side of public health officials.

We look at some of the common misconceptions about the disease and explain why they are misleading.

It's no worse than flu

From the beginning of the pandemic, scientists and medical experts have been clear that most people who contract coronavirus will not experience severe illness.

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The death rate amongst the population as a whole is difficult to calculate precisely, but it may be below 1%.

However, this strain of coronavirus is new, meaning communities have little or no immunity.

A tiny mortality rate can translate into a huge number of deaths if large proportions of the population are infected - and in more vulnerable sub groups such as the elderly, the mortality rate is much higher.

Some people have suggested that we need to simply carry on as normal and learn to live with coronavirus as we do with flu.

While it may be legitimate to question what is the best way of handling the disease, the reality is that doing nothing would condemn thousands of Brits to avoidable deaths.

In a press conference last week the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said on average, the annual death toll from flu is around 7-8,000 people - rising to in the region of 20,000 if there is a particularly bad flu season.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance arrive at Downing Street

In contrast, since March, more than 40,000 people have died of coronavirus despite an unprecedented national lockdown.

Flu is still a major health risk in the UK, and is one of the reasons why winter is such a tough time for hospitals already - but vaccines to certain strains are available and NHS bosses know it is coming each year.

One thing terrifying medics is the added pressure of a coronavirus spike onto the winter season, which is why the timing of the current rise in cases is so worrying.

Professor William Hope, director of the city's Centre of Excellence in Infectious Diseases Research (CEIDR) and also holder of the Dame Sally Davies chair of Antimicrobial Resistance at the University of Liverpool, said: "I don't think there can be any doubt at the moment that coronavirus is much more dangerous.

"It is a new virus and we have already seen the death rate is higher than an ordinary flu season.

"It has a high transmissibility and even a small mortality rate results in a lot of death."

Professor William Hope, director of the Centre of Excellence in Infectious Diseases Research (CEIDR) and Dame Sally Chair of Antimicrobial Resistance at the University of Liverpool

We only need to shield the vulnerable

There is no doubt that lockdown is hugely damaging and causes real suffering.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics recently showed the number of people suffering from depression has doubled, and mental health trusts are reporting increases in suicides and people being admitted to inpatient units.

So it is perhaps understandable that some are bristling against the possibility of a second lockdown.

One call that has been widely shared, including among celebrities such as boxer Tony Bellew, is that we should allow the rest of the population to go around freely and only shield the vulnerable.

However, politicians and medical experts say that is simply not feasible.

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Younger people work in hospitals, care homes and live in houses with people of different ages and vulnerabilities and preventing the virus from spreading between different demographics is considered impossible.

Also, increasing evidence is showing that young people who contract the disease are suffering from the effects of so called 'long Covid', persistent symptoms that have been reported to last for months.

Professor Hope said: "I think the problem is society doesn't work like that does it? We can't simply lock vulnerable people away and let everybody else get on with it.

"We all have a responsibility to protect vulnerable groups as much as possible."

Infections are not rising, we are just testing more

In response to rising rates of infection, many people have attempted to explain away the figures by saying more tests mean more positive cases.

Although a logical argument, and one of the reasons why the picture is not always clear, the evidence shows that sadly this does not completely explain the rising numbers.

As Professor Whitty has shown in slides presented during recent press conferences, it is not simply the number of positive tests that is rising.

Statisticians are also monitoring the so called positivity rate, which is the percentage of overall tests carried out that come back positive.

Different areas are experiences different levels of infection, but Liverpool is particularly badly hit with figures showing an infection rate of around 200 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of close to 11%.

Generally speaking, if new infections in the community were remaining stable or falling, this rate would also be expected to remain relatively stable.

More detailed studies are also being carried out alongside the regular testing regimes.

A report by Imperial College London this month, based on a study of around 160,000 people, revealed that new infections were doubling in the community around every seven days.

More worryingly, as expected if infections were rising, we are seeing increasing death rates and reports are emerging that hospitals are seeing increased admissions for coronavirus patients, on a lag of around 14 days behind increased infection rates.

Some also suggest the lag may be more pronounced this time around due to far more testing in the community, whereas most people tested in the early days were already in hospital and more likely to already be seriously ill.

This week Dr Richard Wenstone, a consultant intensivist at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, said he and his colleagues are seeing an increase in sick patients.

The virus is less severe than in the spring

Rumours and theories have circulated that the virus has mutated to become less deadly than at the height of the pandemic.

However, there is simply no evidence for this.

When cases began to rise towards the end of August most of the problem appeared to be among the younger and less at risk age groups.

In recent days data has emerged showing the virus is now spreading to more vulnerable groups.

On Monday Professor Whitty said: "A lot of people have said maybe this is a milder virus than it was in April, I'm afraid although it would be great if that were true, this is not the case.

"At the moment because the cases started to rise most in the lowest age bands in adults, these are the group least likely to end up in hospital.

"But as you move up the ages the mortality rates move up to quite serious levels."

Reasons for hope

Although this is undoubtedly a critical time in our handling of the pandemic we are nowhere near the nightmarish situation we faced in April - yet.

And with advances in treatments for severe cases doctors have more in their arsenal and vastly more data than at the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccine trials are also progressing well, with some suggestions the so called Oxford vaccine could be available to small groups by the end of the year.

However, we have not yet dealt with coronavirus at the height of winter, and in the short term there are some extremely difficult days ahead.

Without efforts to limit the virus more people will lose loved ones.

The challenge will require a collective effort, and as Professor Whitty said on Monday: "It is not someone else's problem, it is all our problem."