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Coronavirus: What you need to know about COVID-19

Last updated Mar 27, 2020
What is a coronavirus? What is COVID-19?
How is it transmitted?
Can COVID-19 be caught from someone who does not show symptoms?
What are the symptoms?
How can I prevent infection?
Social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation
What are the risks?
I am worried I might be infected with COVID-19. What do I do?
Is there a cure or vaccine?
How long will the outbreak last?
Fear, loneliness, anxiety during a pandemic
Pregnancy and COVID-19
Local information
Guidelines & further reading
What is a coronavirus? What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses commonly infecting people and animals. They are responsible for up to one-third of respiratory infections in children and adults, ranging from a common cold to more severe illness, like pneumonia. Historically, these viruses have been responsible for several respiratory disease outbreaks around the world, including SARS, MERS and now COVID-19. The official name of the novel coronavirus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). As of 11 March 2020, the WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which does not refer to the severity of the disease but rather the geographic spread of it where the likelihood of community spread is high.

How is it transmitted?

COVID-19 is spread through airborne transmission, particularly when the infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets contaminate other people, objects and surfaces within the vicinity of the infected person. When other people touch these objects or surfaces, they transfer the virus to themselves when they touch their face, particularly the eyes, nose or mouth.

Social distancing of a meter away from an infected person is key to preventing infection. The virus has been found to survive on surfaces for several hours, even up to several days. Therefore, practicing frequent handwashing upon coming into contact with these surfaces, i.e., door handles, railings, elevator buttons, etc. may help to prevent yourself from getting the virus.

Your cellphone, money and keyboards can inadvertently carry the virus if you’ve come into contact with the virus from one of these carrier surfaces. Disinfect them often.

Can COVID-19 be caught from someone who does not show symptoms?

Catching COVID-19 from someone with no symptoms is not very likely. However, many people with COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms. This is especially true at the early stages of the disease. It is, therefore, possible to catch COVID-19 from someone who has, for example, just a mild cough and does not feel ill. Some reports suggest transmission of the disease may occur before symptoms are evident. However, this is not believed to be the main way the virus spreads.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Most people experience them after 5-6 days.

  • Fever (80-90% of cases) - body temperature over 38.3°C. This is the key symptom, sometimes accompanied by chills. More common in adults than children.
  • Cough (59-82% of cases) - usually dry.
  • Breathing difficulty, or shortness of breath (31-55% of cases) - appears on average 5-8 days after the first symptoms of the disease.

In addition, other symptoms may occur, such as muscle pain, fatigue, increased phlegm production, headache, sore throat (at the beginning of the disease), chest pain, or coughing up blood (5% of cases). Some patients (10% of cases) also present gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.

Important: Viruses are particularly common at this time of year. COVID-19 is challenging to diagnose as many of the symptoms are common to other infections. The hallmark symptoms of the COVID-19 infection are cough and fever. However, these are also symptoms of the common flu. Other symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue and muscle aches, are more suggestive of other infectious diseases.

How can I prevent infection?


  • Wash your hands frequently with hot water and soap or alcohol-based sanitizer (60% alcohol). If your hands are visibly dirty, use soap and water.
  • If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow, not your hand.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.


  • Don’t touch your face, especially your mouth, eyes, and nose.
  • Don’t go to work or school if you have symptoms of a cold or flu.
  • Avoid crowded public places and travel.
  • Avoid contact with people who feel unwell.
  • Don’t stockpile and use surgical masks if you do not have symptoms.
    • They do not protect you from getting infected.
    • By doing so, you contribute to supply shortages in hospitals, where they are needed the most.
    • However, there are situations when using a mask is advised.
  • Do not go to your GP if you suspect being infected with the coronavirus. You may transmit the infection to others. Call your healthcare provider or local health authorities instead.
  • Do not use a taxi or public transport if you are advised to go to the hospital.

WHO Director General Statement: Everyone has a responsibility in containing this disease, governments, businesses and individuals. To break the chains of transmission and reduce strain on the health care system, our duty is to not be a carrier of the virus. Staying at home, washing your hands regularly and when going out, keeping a distance of at least a metre from others are the surest ways to reduce transmission and keeping yourself and others free from infection.

Social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation

Social distancing by healthy people has been implemented around the world. These measurescan help to “flatten the curve” of people who may become infected at any one time. The goal isto have less people requiring healthcare at the same time in order to avoid overcrowding inhospitals and running out of medical supplies and equipment.

However, other measures are also being enforced by governments around the world includingquarantine and self-isolation. With all of these terms floating around, many people are confused.Below are definitions for each of these.

Social distancing – measures taken to increase the physical space between people in order toslow the spread of the virus. They include staying home, avoiding crowds, working from homewhen possible, meeting friends and relatives online instead of in person, keeping a distance of 1meter from another person when in a public space.

Quarantine – staying home and away from other people as much as possible after exposure orpotential exposure to an infection. For example, people who have recently traveled or havecome into close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 are being required to undergoa 14-day quarantine.

Self-isolation – refers to someone who is confirmed to be ill with a communicable disease andmust separate themselves from others. In terms of COVID-19, this is directed at people whosecondition is stable and who are not experiencing difficulty breathing.

What are the risks?

Persons with compromised immune systems, i.e., sick people, the elderly, those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, like COPD or asthma, are at greatest risk of COVID-19 complications. The infection may spread to the lungs, causing pneumonia and respiratory failure. It is important to reduce their contact with anyone presenting or potentially presenting contact with the virus. If you have travelled or may have otherwise come into contact with the virus, it is advised to refrain from physically visiting with persons of this vulnerable population. If you are a person with a compromised immune system or are an elderly person, please avoid public spaces or travel.

I am worried I might be infected with COVID-19. What do I do?

If you have no symptoms:

  • Most state borders have now been closed to travel. If you have returned from travel, you should quarantine for 14 days. These efforts will contribute to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in your community.
  • If you have not travelled, then practice the guidelines as instructed by your local public health authority and the WHO:
    • monitor your health for symptoms such as for fever, cough or breathing difficulty.
    • practice social distancing – no handshaking, avoiding crowded areas, keeping 1 meter away from others.
    • practice handwashing and disinfection hygiene – wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, disinfect all items including handbags, cell phones, tv remotes, doorknobs, etc. with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach.

If you have mild symptoms (runny nose, headache, sore throat):

  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slightly runny nose, until you recover.
  • Avoid all contact with others and visits to medical facilities.

If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing:

  • Seek medical advice promptly. Call in advance and tell your provider or local health authorities of any recent travel or contact with potentially infected persons or surfaces. This will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the appropriate health facility in your area.
Is there a cure or vaccine?

Although there is ongoing research, currently there is no known cure, nor a vaccine. Antibiotics are not effective against the virus. Symptomatic treatment is focused on alleviating your symptoms and helping your body fight the virus. If you feel ill, drink plenty of water, rest, and if needed, take painkillers. It is recommended that you separate yourself from other people and animals.

Possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are currently being tested. The WHO is coordinating global efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19.

How long will the outbreak last?

This novel virus features many unknowns. It is not known whether it will withstand the northern hemisphere summer heat, as observed in seasonal influenza.

Fear, loneliness, anxiety during a pandemic

Stress and anxiety are normal reactions in a crisis situation. Managing your emotions during this time is critical in staying well and keeping others safe.

Whether alone, isolated or recovering at home if you have contracted COVID-19, there are many things you can do for yourself to ease the challenge of getting through this crisis.

First, know that you are not alone. Everyone is facing this. We will get through this. Trust the governments and institutions in place to make the best decisions and map their resources to stemming the outbreak.

As for what you can do, it is not necessary to be constantly watching the news. Use this time to your advantage. Read, sew, knit. Do light indoor exercise. Meditate. Learn a new language. Stroll through museum exhibitions online. Taking your mind off of the crisis and putting the focus on you will keep you calm and bide the time.

Reaching out to crisis hotlines can also help to reassure you.

Pregnancy and COVID-19

In two reports including a total of 18 pregnant women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 pneumonia, there was no laboratory evidence of transmission of the virus to the neonate. Intrauterine or perinatal transmission has not been identified.

Currently, the approach to prevention, evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of pregnant women with suspected COVID-19 is similar to that in non-pregnant individuals.

Women with COVID-19 can breastfeed. They should practice respiratory hygiene andwear a mask, wash hands before and after touching the baby and routinely clean anddisinfect surfaces. Respiratory hygiene means covering your mouth and nose with yourbent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then, dispose of the used tissueimmediately.

Local information
Total infected: 31554Deaths: 149

Germany has introduced travel restrictions for entries from outside the Schengen. All corresponding entries by plane or ship are affected. Entry is possible for German citizens.

Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the nation on March 18 2020, the 1st time in history she has outside of her New Year’s address, which implied the significance of the pandemic and the importance of the measures Germany is taking to contain propagation of the virus. She ordered a nationwide closure of all bars, clubs, theaters, opera houses, museums, exhibitions, movie theatres, casinos, gyms, swimming pools, playgrounds, did not fail to mention brothels in the ban. She reminded Germans not to panic about having access to food and medication saying that all essential operations such as grocery stores, pharmacies and banks will remain open.

New measures have been put in place. People are not allowed to form groups of three or more in public unless they live together in the same household, or the gathering is work-related. Police will monitor and enforce the law and penalties on anyone found infringing the new rules.

In case you develop symptoms associated with COVID-19 (coughing, runny nose, sore throat and fever) or have been exposed to someone confirmed of having COVID-19, and irrespective of symptoms, should get in touch by phone with a doctor or contact the hotline 116 117 and stayat home.

Total infected: 39673Deaths: 2696

Spain being severely impacted by the pandemic; the Spanish government has nationalized all ofits hospitals and healthcare providers in the country in a move to combat the spread of the coronavirus. They have seized control of all private hospitals and begun requisitioning materials such as surgical masks and COVID-19 test kits.

The government declared a state of national emergency, closing schools and public spaces andtelling citizens they can only leave their house to go to work and buy essentials like food and medicine. The state of national emergency gives the government wide-ranging powers, including the ability to confine people and order evacuations and mobilize the military.

Total infected: 22302Deaths: 1100

President Macron put the country on a “war-footing”, ordering the population to stay at home and only go out for essential trips. "We are at war... we're fighting neither another army nor our own nation. But the enemy is here, invisible, untouchable... and is advancing."

Citizens who leave home must now carry a document detailing the reasons why, with fines for transgressors is set at €135. The government has deployed tens of thousands of police to patrolthe streets and issue fines for people without a written declaration justifying their reasons for being out. 110,000 fines have been recorded since the implementation of these measures!

The rules will be enforced throughout continental France and in the overseas territories of Saint-Barthélémy, Saint-Martin and Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.

The Eiffel tower is closedas are world-famous Parisian tourist hotspots such as the Louvre.

Curfews around the Republic have been imposed from 22h00 to 5h00 to fight against the propagation of the coronavirus.

A scientific committee, headed by virologist Françoise Barré-Sanoussi who also took part in the discovery of the AIDS virus, has arrived at the Elysée. The CARE – Comité Analyse Recherche et Expertise – which includes 12 doctors and researchers who have been entrusted with helpingthe government and advising them on measures to take, diagnostic methods and the follow-up of the evolution of coronavirus on French soil.

A toll-free hotline service has been set up to answer your questions about the Coronavirus COVID-19, operating non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 0 800 130 000

Saudi Arabia
Total infected: 767Deaths: 1

Saudi Arabia halted all international flights, suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis. They have closed mosques, schools, malls and restaurants and imposed a nighttime curfew. They also have suspended the Umrah pilgrimage.

They temporarily closed off the eastern province of Qatif, which has most of the country's COVID-19 cases. Saudi Arabia impose a countrywide ban for entry and exit from Mecca, Medina and Riyadh. Additionally, residents of the thirteen provinces are banned from leaving them or moving to other areas.

Anyone concerned about the virus, or who wants more information about it and precautions thatcan be taken, can contact the ministry's service center’s toll-free number, 937.

Total infected: 27017Deaths: 2077

Iran announced the cancellation of all concerts, sporting events and other cultural events as wellas the closure of universities, higher educational institutions and schools.

The government warned that Iran may be facing a second wave in the coronavirus outbreak because people did not heed guidance on travelling during the Nowruz holidays, and consequently banned all new trips between cities. The government also released and/or pardoned thousands of prisoners due to COVID-19.

Total infected: 901Death: 10

An official “state of epidemic” was declared. A state of epidemic is a legal situation announced within a given area with respect to a threat of an epidemic outbreak in order to introduce suitable countermeasures. The penalty for not complying with quarantine regulations would beis increased to a maximum of 30.000 zlotys.

All the country’s borders are closed and the international plane and train connections are suspended. Polish citizens can come back home from abroad by means of road vehicles, but they are obliged to undergo a 14-day quarantine after crossing the border. Returning charter flights with Polish citizens will also be allowed back into the country.

All shops located in shopping centres (malls) shall remain closed with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies and select service points (e.g. laundromats). These restrictions do not apply to shops located outside of shopping centres (malls). Restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs may still sell food, but consumption on-site is prohibited. Home delivery is permitted.

All schools and universities in Poland are closed. Lessons and seminars are being performed via e-learning platforms.

Poland's government announced further restrictions on people leaving their homes and on public gatherings. The new limits constrained gatherings to a maximum of two people (with an exception for families).

Religious events are allowed for gatherings of up to 5 people, but the government recommends participating in religious services online or via radio or TV.

It was announced that the May 10th presidential election would take place as scheduled.

Guidelines & further reading

Country guidelines:

Further reading: