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About coronavirus (COVID-19)

hand sanitizer by a pharmacy


  • COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus strain called SARS-CoV-2.
  • The virus causes mild symptoms in the majority of people, including a dry cough and temperature, which can be managed at home without special treatment.
  • Some people develop severe COVID-19 and need to be hospitalised. Older people and those with underlying health conditions are most at-risk.
  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water, use of an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and avoiding people who are unwell, are the best ways to prevent COVID-19.
  • If you feel unwell, stay at home and call your local health authority. They will tell you what to do next.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus disease 2019, is a new illness caused by a previously unknown virus called SARS-CoV-2 . The virus is part of a family of coronaviruses which are responsible for lots of different illness from the common cold to the flu. But this new strain can be more severe in some populations.

Over the past few months, the virus has spread around the world – mostly in Asia, North America and Europe – and on 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it pandemic.

How is COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is spread through contact with respiratory droplets of a person currently infected with the virus. These droplets come from the nose or mouth of an infected person and may land on surfaces and objects around them. The virus is then spread when another person comes into contact with these droplets and touches their own face, nose or mouth. The virus may also be spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs or exhales, and people around them breathe in these micro-droplets. For this reason, it is important to stay around one meter (3 feet) away from someone you know to have the virus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms are a dry cough, tiredness and a high temperature. Other flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea are also common.

Around 80% of people with COVID-19 recover from the virus without the need for special treatment. Many may not even know that they have the virus, while others may feel like they have the common cold and treat it as they normally would at home. Around one in six people will get seriously ill from the virus and may have trouble breathing. These people will need hospitalisation.

If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, stay at home and call your local health authority. They will give you advice and tell you what to do and where to go.

Coronavirus is very infectious, so it’s important to follow guidance to protect your own health, the health of medical staff and your wider community.

Remember to listen to announcements from your government and public health department if they need to contain the virus where you live.

Which population are at-risk for severe COVID-19?

The likelihood of serious illness increases in older populations and people with underlying health problems including high blood pressure, heart problems, lung disease or diabetes. There is currently no evidence to suggest that people living with HIV and on effective antiretroviral treatment are at an increased risk for acquiring COVID-19 or developing severe symptoms. See our page on COVID-19 and living with HIV.

How can I prevent COVID-19?

The best way to stop coronavirus infection is through frequent washing of your hands and not touching your face. Using a good soap and giving your hands a thorough wash for around 40 seconds is the most effective way to stop the spread of the virus. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if you do not have access to water or soap.

If you sneeze or cough, use a clean tissue to cover your mouth and nose, then make sure you throw it away after and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, use the inside of your elbow to cover your mouth and nose.

Be sure to avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough. Similarly, if you are feeling unwell, make sure you keep away from others.

Using a facemask is only effective if you are working with someone known to have COVID-19 or if you are sneezing and coughing and are trying to protect others. They are only effective when used properly and disposed of safely. Wearing a mask should always be combined with frequent handwashing. The WHO has lots of advice on when and how to use masks.

Every day, more information about the coronavirus comes in. To stay up-to-date check the World Health Organization website for the newest public health information.

Last updated:
24 March 2020