Last updated January 28, 2021
Coronavirus: What you need to know about COVID-19
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.
- Anosmia - sudden partial or complete loss of the sense of smell
- Cutaneous manifestations – morbilliform rash, hives, vesicular (varicella-like) eruptions (small papules, vesicles, pustules) or chilblain-like acral lesions (on fingers, elbows, toes)
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 2 meters (6 feet) distance between yourself and others.
Use a of cloth face covering in public settings, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Cloth face coverings should:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- be secured with ties or ear loops
- include multiple layers of fabric
- allow for breathing without restriction
- can be washed and dried without damage or change to shape
- It is recommended to not use surgical masks or N-95 respirators as those are critical supplies needed for healthcare workers and other medical first responders
- For more information on cloth face coverings and how to make them, visit the CDC link.
- Leave shoes at the entrance of your home, especially if you have children or infants that crawl on the floor.
- Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Cloth face coverings should:
- 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.
- Don’t wear a mask while exercising.
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 have COVID-19. What do I do?
If you are concerned about your health, try our fast, free and anonymous WHO-based tool to assess your risk of having COVID-19. Our AI app will ask you a few questions about symptoms, travel and contact with others and guide you through the next steps totake. Check out our COVID-19 checkup.
COVID-19 tests – the positive, the negative and the uncomfortable
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you will be expected to first complete a self-assessment. These are usually short, accurate online or oral questionnaires to be completed with immediate results. If the results of the self-assessment recommend further testing, then you will likely be directed to a public assessment center. Below are some of the tests currently done to determine the presence of the active virus or antibodies.
Testing for the active virus The most common testing procedure for COVID-19 is the nasopharyngeal swab.
You will first be asked to blow your nose, then tilt your head back to allow the health care practitioner access to your nasal passageway. The health care practitioner will insert a long, flexible swab, much like a long cotton tip swab, deep into the patient’s nostril to collect a sample from their sinuses. The swab must be inserted far enough and remain in place for several seconds to adequately collect enough material for the test. This procedure is uncomfortable but has been found to be very effective in identifying traces of the virus.
The swab is then submitted to the public authorities/laboratories. You will receive the results dependent on the organization, within hours to weeks. You will either receive a positive or negative result, together with recommended next steps.
Testing for antibody protection Some commercial antibody tests for COVID-19 are being made available through health care providers and laboratories. They are not advised for diagnosing current infections as antibodies often only develop weeks after infection. These antibody tests can therefore only tell if you have had an infection in the past, not an indicator of your present infection status.
Currently, it is unknown if having antibodies to the COVID-19 virus protects you from getting infected again.
Is there a cure or vaccine?
As of December 2020, 2 COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized by several countries for public use. The most widely used are the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Both of these vaccines are delivered in 2 doses, recommended to be administered 21 (Pfizer) and 28 (Moderna) days apart. Other vaccines approved around the world include Astra Zeneca, Sputnik V and Sinovac.
These vaccines are deemed safe and effective for the population, providing high efficacy once the two doses have been given. They have gone through rigorous independent and thorough scientific reviews for safety, efficacy and quality and have been found to produce little to no side effects in the general population.
Because mass production of these vaccines is required, many countries have currently implemented a phased distribution plan to prioritize vulnerable populations who are most at risk of COVID-19 complications, such as the elderly, and at high risk of exposure and transmission, such as healthcare workers.
Until vaccines are widely available for everyone, we must:
- continue to follow local public health advice and government-imposed restrictions.
- take necessary health and sanitary precautions, like physical distancing, washing hands and wearing masks.
- stay home and only go out for necessities.
Several variants of the COVID-19 virus have been found and are circulating around the world. These variants or strains have been determined to be more effective at infecting populations through their increased transmissibility ability, meaning they are more contagious. While they have been found to transmit more easily to greater numbers of people, scientists haven’t yet concluded if the variants are more deadly or produce more severe complications.
Yet, scientists have indicated that the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines provide adequate protection against these variants, and can be modified to effectively deal with future variants of the COVID-19 virus.
Due to the higher transmissibility factor of these variants, it is advised to take added precautions and follow all public health protocols to avoid becoming infected or inadvertently passing on the virus to others
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.
Domestic abuse and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic
Unfortunately, the accumulation of lockdown, job losses, fear of infection, isolation from support networks and limited access to critical social and police services has led some households to experience a dramatic rise in domestic abuse and violence towards partners, children and pets.
These challenges do not justify the abuser’s actions.
Victims of household violence or abuse have numerous options to find relief – both temporary and permanent.
Familiarize yourself with this universal sign for help.
Tuck your thumb into your palm, then clench your fingers tightly over the thumb to make a fist.
Use this non-verbal, unwritten sign as a way to tell a friend, neighbour or family member to call the police or send help immediately.
Hackers and cyber scammers have been exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by sending fraudulent texts or emails in an attempt to trick you into clicking on malicious links or opening attachments. Be vigilant as these methods are likely being used to steal your money or your sensitive information.
- World Health Organization. "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak", March 10, 2020
- CDC. "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)", March 9, 2020
- ECDC. "Q & A on COVID-19", March 6, 2020
- Up to date. "Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)", March 9, 2020
- Up to date. "Coronaviruses", February 18, 2020
- NHS. "Coronavirus (COVID-19)", March 5, 2020