COVID-19 (sometimes called coronavirus) is a virus with similar symptoms to the flu. It was discovered in China in November 2019 and is rapidly spreading globally. It's spread through coughing or sneezing. Washing your hands and covering your mouth when coughing are good ways to prevent it from spreading. If you think you might be infected, it's important to stay at home and self-isolate for 7 days.

What is coronavirus?

The term coronavirus actually refers to a wide family of viruses. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease caused by the coronavirus strain called SARS-CoV-2. This was discovered in Wuhan, China, in November 2019. 

Because it’s still such a new illness, some aspects of COVID-19 are still unknown. The below information is based on the information scientists have at the moment and what has been published by the World Health Organisation.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

So far, there are three main symptoms for COVID-19:

  • a high temperature (fever) — a temperature of 38°C or above
  • difficulty breathing
  • a dry cough 
  • the loss of your sense of smell and taste

However, these are also symptoms for many other common diseases, like a cold or flu. Also, the symptoms are usually mild to begin with and only develop gradually over a period of time. There have also been cases of people who are infected but show no symptoms. 

How is COVID-19 spread?

At the moment, scientists believe that COVID-19 is mainly spread from human to human through cough droplets. 

When a person infected with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs, the droplets land on objects or surfaces. The virus then spreads if you touch these surfaces and then touch your nose, eyes, or mouth. 

What happens when you’re infected?

COVID-19 affects people differently. For some otherwise healthy people, symptoms can go away after a few days. But for someone with an underlying health issue, it can take weeks to recover, and in very rare cases it could be fatal. 

Is there a cure for the coronavirus?

At the moment there's currently no specific cure for the disease. Because COVID-19 is a viral and not a bacterial disease, antibiotics are not effective. But, there are a few simple measures you can take to reduce the risks of catching the virus. 

How can you protect yourself and others from COVID-19?

The World Health Organisation and NHS both recommend taking the following precautions: 

  • Try and self-isolate as best as you can. The less contact you have with other people, the fewer chances you have of either catching the virus or spreading it. The government and experts are advising that everyone stays away from public spaces (such as shops, parks or public transport) as much as possible.
  • Maintain at least 2 metres (7 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Because symptoms of COVID-19 can often be mild, even if someone doesn’t feel or look ill, they may still be infected. 
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds) with either alcohol-based hand rub or if that’s not available, soap and water. This helps to kill viruses and germs that may be on your hands.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Make sure you either cover it with a tissue or your sleeve. Try to not use your hand. If you do use your hand to cover your mouth, wash it immediately after. And don’t forget to put any used tissues in the bin. 
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, especially if you have any of the three main symptoms — fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. 
  • Be mindful that people over the age of 70, or people who have underlying health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease are at greater risk of harm. Be extra careful around them.
  • Don’t travel to countries which have been badly affected by the virus. If possible, avoid travelling to places that have reported cases of COVID-19  — especially if you're an older person or have diabetes, heart, or lung disease.

Useful numbers and websites 

If you think you might be infected, or know anyone that could be infected, it's important to stay at home and self-isolate for 7 days. If you feel you can't cope with your symptoms at home, your condition gets worse, or your symptoms don't get better after 7 days, call the NHS helpline on 111. 

Other useful web pages are:

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