What is coronavirus?
Novel Coronavirus, formally called COVID-19, is part of a family of viruses that include the common cold and respiratory illnesses such as SARS.
It affects your lungs and airways. For many people, it causes mild symptoms while for others it can be much more serious and require hospital treatment.
Cases of coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan City in China in December last year and have quickly spread. There are now over 180 countries and provinces reporting hundreds of thousands of cases worldwide, including in the UK.
How does coronavirus spread?
Coronavirus is very infectious, which means it spreads very easily.
It spreads in much the same way as the common cold or flu - through infected respiratory droplets like coughs and sneezes – and passes from person to person. This can happen when:
- an infectious person gets the virus on their hands (for example by coughing in their hand) and then touches a commonly used surface, such as a door handle, which someone else then touches.
- someone gets close to (less than 1-2 metres) someone who is infectious.
This is why we are being advised to avoid close contact with others, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and wipe down surfaces with disinfectant.
The average ‘incubation period’ – the time between coming into contact with the virus and experiencing symptoms – is 5 days, but it could be anything between 1 and 14 days. This is why the Government is asking everyone who has come into contact with the virus to self-isolate for 14 days.
People are most likely to spread the virus to other people when they are experiencing symptoms, so it’s important to stay at home for at least 7 days (or longer if your symptoms persist). However, don’t forget people can be infectious before they know they are ill.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The most commons symptoms include:
- a persistant, dry cough
- a high temperature - 37.7°C or above
- shortness of breath.
If you have any of these symptoms, however mild, you must stay at home for at least 7 days.
If someone you live with has any of these symptoms, everyone in the household needs to stay at home for 14 days.
Other symptoms people are reporting include:
- a sore throat
- a blocked/runny nose
- stomach discomfort and diarrhoea.
What should I do if I'm unwell?
If you have been identified as someone who is extremely vulnerable, and you develop a high temperature or a new, continuous cough you should seek clinical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.
If you are not classed as extremely vulnerable, you don’t need to tell the NHS you’re staying at home and you won’t be tested for coronavirus. However, you can use the 111 online coronavirus service to check your symptoms. You can use this service to sign-up to get daily check-ins by text, and to access support if you do not have friends and family who are able to help you whilst you are self-isolating.
You should also get in touch with the NHS if:
- you don’t feel better after 7 days
- your symptoms are getting worse
- you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home.
You should do this by calling 111 or using the NHS online coronavirus service. Do not go to your doctor’s surgery or to hospital.
It is also important that you stay at home and for at least 7 days if you have a new, continuous cough or high temperature, even if you're feeling OK.
Stay at home for at least 14 days if you live with other people and you or they develop a new, continuous cough or high temperature. Everyone in the household needs to stay at& home for at least 14 days or until they develop symptoms, after which time they must stay at home for a further 7 days (even if this is longer than 14 days in total).
Why is coronavirus such a big problem?
Coronavirus has been declared a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation. This means there is significant and ongoing spread of the disease across lots of countries.
The Government has called coronavirus a major public health emergency and the most ‘significant threat this country has faced for decades’.
So why is coronavirus such a significant problem? There are a few very simple reasons:
- The virus spreads very easily from person to person – on average people infect between 2 and 3 other people – so, without action, many more people will get infected.
- A large number of people experience few or mild symptoms. This means they may keep doing what they usually do and spread the virus without realising.
- Although most people experience mild to moderate symptoms, a significant number (around 1 in 5) will need hospital care and some (around 1 in 20) will need critical care. If the virus spreads widely, the NHS will not have enough equipment, doctors or nurses to help everyone who needs it.
- Although most people will experience a mild illness and recover quickly, the fatality rate for coronavirus is much higher than seasonal flu, particularly among people at highest risk.
What is the Government doing about coronavirus?
The Government, advised by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser, are trying to stop the virus spreading and protect people who are most at risk. They're doing this by:
- Asking all of us to stay at home, except for the very limited purposes above.
- Asking people who are classed as extremely vulnerable not to leave the house at all. The Government are providing support to those who are being asked to do this.
- Helping the NHS respond to the virus by increasing the amount of equipment, re-deploying healthcare workers, building new hospitals, and reducing the amount of non-urgent appointments and services.
- Working with manufacturers and companies to increase production of ventilators. 8,000 additional ventilators are expected from international manufacturers in the coming weeks.
This will have a big impact on all of us, and on businesses, so the Government is also taking steps to support the economy and people whose jobs have been affected.
What are the risks of catching coronavirus?
Anyone can catch coronavirus. It spreads easily from person to person and, if we did nothing, would continue to do so until most people had been infected.
Most people (around 4 out of 5) who get coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms. This might feel like anything from a run of the mill common cold to the flu. For most people this will mean they need to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and take normal over-the-counter remedies, such as paracetamol.
Unfortunately, around 1 in 5 people who get coronavirus will become severely unwell and need hospital treatment.
Around 1 in 20 people will need critical (intensive) care in hospital.
Are some people more at risk from coronavirus?
Although most people of any age will only experience mild or moderate symptoms, we do know that some people are much more likely than others to become seriously unwell. This includes:
- people aged over the 70, even if you're otherwise fit and well
- people of any age living with long-term health conditions which mean you'd normally be offered the flu jab
There are also some conditions that put people at particularly high risk. The following people may be affected and should receive a letter from the NHS advising them what to do:
- People who've received solid organ transplants.
- People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
- People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
- People on immunosuppression therapies which significantly increase the risk of infection.
- Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
- People having immune therapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
- People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
- People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
Pregnant women have also been advised to be extra careful.
If you have a health condition on the Government’s list of extremely vulnerable people but have not been contacted by the NHS, you should speak to your GP or hospital clinician about your concerns.
How can I reduce my risk of catching or spreading coronavirus?
The Government has said everyone must practice what's called 'social distancing'. This means you should stay at home at all times. The only times when you may leave your home are:
- to go shopping for essentials, such as food and medicine
- to go out alone or with someone you live with to exercise once a day - this could be a run, a walk or a cycle. You should try to do this close to your home rather than driving somewhere to exercise.
- if you have a medical need or are giving care or support to a vulnerable person (this includes volunteering to help people in your community with essential tasks)
- if staying in your house would place you at risk of injury or harm, for example if you are at risk of abuse
- to travel to and from work, but only when you absolutely can't work from home.
You should try to leave your house as little as you possible can. When you do leave your house, you need to stay at least 2 metres away from other people (except members of your own household) and not be outside for very long.
How often should I wash my hands?
You should also make sure you wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly, with soap and hot water.
You should wash your hands:
- for at least 20 seconds or for two rounds of the song ‘Happy Birthday’
- when you get home after going out
- before eating or handling food
- after sneezing or blowing your nose.
Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You should also make sure you catch coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – and put used tissues in the bin.
Is there anything I else I can do to avoid getting ill?
The most important thing you can do to avoid getting ill is to make sure you're following the Government's guidance on social distancing and practising good hygiene.
You don't need to wear a face mask. During normal day-to-day activities face masks don’t protect people from viruses like coronavirus. Health and social care professionals will wear masks while delivering care to people who may have the virus, and people who are infected may be advised to wear one – however they are not otherwise recommended.
Although it won't definitely stop you getting coronavirus, it always helps to look after your health. For more information check out our advice on how to safe and well at home.