As of this morning - Monday 23rd March - the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 5,683, with 281 deaths and 135 recoveries.

As the NHS announces a new major deal to expand hospital capacity to combat the spreading virus, clinical testing for vaccine candidates in the UK is being slated to start as early as next month.

ChAdOx1 - a current vaccine candidate - is hoping to begin preclinical tests next week, with Public Health England (PHE) saying it could potentially authorise safety trials in humans to get under way "in the next month or so."

The news comes as various global authorities are reporting a spike in the seizure of unauthorised antivirals and choloroquine amid the outbreak.

According to Interpol, the seizures represent "only the tip of the iceberg", as surgical masks were also named as the counterfeit medical device most commonly sold online, accounting for around 600 cases during the week of action.

Interpol say that the seizure of more than 34,000 counterfeit and substandard masks, “corona spray”, “coronavirus packages” or “coronavirus medicine” shows “criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit.

“The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s wellbeing, or their lives,” said Jürgen Stock, the organisation’s secretary general.

Back in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) said it has been awarded $500,000 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help finance its role in evaluating the vaccine, on top of funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) "to evaluate vaccines in their pipeline vaccine that are destined for clinical trials as early as April.”

In addition, while the Oxford University team have a small manufacturing capability to make ChAdOx1 for testing purposes, they say they will need to collaborate with another party in order to produce sufficient quantities for use on a broader scale, should the vaccine ultimately prove to be effective against the virus.

In other COVID-19 news, Bayer, Novartis and Teva have all announced donations of antimalarial drugs as part of global efforts exploring use of the medicines to treat patients.

Bayer is set to provide three million tablets of Resochin (chloroquine phosphate), while Novartis says it will donate up to 130 million doses of hydroxychloroquine by the end of May, with Teva initially supplying six million tablets of hydroxychloroquine sulphate by March 31, and more than 10 million within a month.

Wash your hands frequently:

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Maintain social distancing:

Maintain at least one metre (three feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early:

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.