Here are some of the best video calling apps for speaking to friends and family

Houseparty has been utilised by friends to hold virtual social gatherings (Houseparty)

The government have advised against all social gatherings, but groups of friends can still chat visa a number of innovative apps.

Members of the public have been advised to avoid gatherings with friends and families and to instead keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet and social media.

And with pubs, restaurants and other social spaces closed to the public meet ups with close friends are now advised against.

Thankfully a number of apps for phones, tablets and laptops are waiting to be utilised by socially-starved and housebound people, many of them suitable for larger groups of friends.

Here are just a handful of the best apps to use when you want to catch up with friend groups.

Zoom

This free-to-use video conferencing app is typically utilised for work meetings, webinars and conferences, but can also be used by groups of friends to simulate a gathering at the pub.

Tried, trusted and easy to use, Zoom will rarely let you down whether you’re catching up with an old friend or gossiping with a relative.

Houseparty

As this name suggests this app caters to rowdier affairs and has been the go-to app for friends sharing a pint from a distance.

Equipped with games and trivia, groups of up to eight buddies can simulate a night at a pub quiz

Google Hangouts

Like Zoom, Google Hangouts is typically utilised by workers during shift hours – but once the working day is behind you, Google Hangout is a great tool for friends looking to open up their own virtual pub.

Up to ten friends can join a video call on the app which is free-to-use.

Justalk

This fun and easy to use video call app is also proving popular with social-distancing chums.

The video calling app is better equipped for informal exchanges, allowing users to doodle, play games and share photos.

Whereby

Video conferencing apps can become cluttered when joined by several parties – Whereby’s clever design make video conferences, calls and catch-ups far more easy on the eye.

This comes at a cost, however, with users required to part with £9.99 to access the apps Pro mode. A free mode, however allows calls of up to four friends.

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. https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response

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 call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next. https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS