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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a group of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a novel coronavirus which hasn’t been previously identified in humans. It can affect your lungs and airways. There have been tens of thousands of coronavirus cases reported in the UK.

Written by Dr Zubair Ahmed and Dr Johnson D’souza. Last updated 25th March 2020.

Fast facts

Should I be worried about the coronavirus?

You may feel some anxiety and stress about COVID-19 due to news reporting on the outbreak. It’s important to stay calm and follow official advice to protect yourself from getting infected. You can stay up to date with the latest information about COVID-19 on the GOV.UK website.

How did the coronavirus start?

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, where the first case was reported in late December, 2019. The spread of the virus increased quickly and reached other countries due to international travel. Public health officials around the world have put in measures to fight the spread of the virus.

How will the coronavirus impact my travel?

As of 23rd March, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises British people travelling abroad to return to the UK now, if commercial flights are still available. If you are travelling abroad, you should contact your airline or travel company and keep up-to-date with the official government travel advice. The FCO advises against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect on 17th March and applies for 30 days.


Symptoms, treatment and testing

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are a new, continuous cough and a high temperature.

If you have symptoms, you should continue to stay at home. To protect others, you should not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

Symptoms of COVID-19

The most common symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • Fever of 37.8°C or more
  • New continuous cough

Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms can be similar to other illnesses such as cold and flu. However, these symptoms may progress into pneumonia as the virus blends into a nasal fluid that enters the trachea and lungs, causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

At-risk groups such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems and those suffering from chronic or long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease, can experience more severe symptoms.

Households with possible COVID-19 infection

If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started.

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill.

It is likely that people living within a household will infect each other or be infected already. Staying at home for 14 days will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community.

If you can, move any vulnerable individuals (such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) out of your home, to stay with friends or family for the duration of the home isolation period.

If you cannot move vulnerable people out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible.

When to seek help

If you have a high temperature or a new continuous cough, you should stay at home. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home. If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, your condition gets worse or your symptoms do not get better after 7 days, use the online NHS 111 coronavirus service. Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.


Do not go to a GP, pharmacy or hospital.

Who is at risk?

Typically, you may be at risk of contracting the virus if:

  • You are in close proximity with someone who is infected. The risk can increase in close gatherings of people – workplaces, classrooms and households.
  • If you are travelling together within one metre on someone infected in any kind of vehicle.
  • You are talking face-to-face for more than a couple of minutes with an infected individual.
  • You have been exposed to an infected person’s cough or body fluids.

You may be at high risk of coronavirus if you:

  • Have had an organ transplant
  • Are having certain types of cancer treatment
  • Have blood or bone marrow cancer, such as leukaemia
  • Have a severe lung condition, such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
  • Have a condition that makes you much more likely to get infections
  • Are taking medicine that weakens your immune system
  • Are pregnant and have a serious heart condition

Treatment for coronavirus

COVID-19 is a new virus and a vaccination has yet to be found. As it is a viral infection, antibiotics will not work to treat it.

Those infected with the coronavirus may not require treatment if they experience mild or no symptoms. However, those infected should self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days.

In severe cases of COVID-19, treatment includes care at a hospital which focuses on supporting the patient through the illness whilst their immune system works to fight the virus.

Testing for coronavirus

In the UK, more than 44,000 people have been tested for coronavirus. People who are self-isolating with mild symptoms are no longer being tested. Tests are primarily being given to hospital patients with respiratory problems, and vulnerable individuals in residential or care facilities experiencing outbreaks.


Staying at home and away from others

As of 23rd March, the government has introduced new measures requiring people to stay at home, except for very limited purposes, stopping all non-essential shops and community spaces, and stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public.

Every citizen must comply with these new measures. Relevant authorities, including the police, will be given powers to enforce them. This includes through fines and dispersing gatherings.

Staying at home

You should only leave the house for one of four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, e.g. food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
  • One form of exercise a day, e.g. a run, walk or cycle – alone or with members of your family
  • Any medical need, or to provide care for a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this can absolutely not be done from home

It’s important to note that these four reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.


These measures must be followed by everyone.

Closing non-essential shops and public spaces

The government has ordered certain businesses to close to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • All non-essential retail stores
  • Libraries, community centres, and youth centres
  • Indoor and outdoor leisure facilities
  • Communal places within parks
  • Places of worship
  • Hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses
  • Restaurants and cafes, except for takeaway-only orders
  • Pubs
  • Cinemas
  • Theatres

Stopping public gatherings

To make sure people are staying at home and away from each other, they are stopping public gatherings of more than two people. This includes weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies. This will exclude funerals, which can be attended by immediate family.

There are two exceptions to this rule: *The gathering is of a group of people who live together, e.g. a parent can take their children to the supermarket if there is no option to leave them at home *The gathering is essential for work purposes – but workers should try to minimise all meetings and gatherings in the workplace

Closing schools

Registered childcare providers (including nurseries and childminders), primary and secondary schools and further education colleges are closed for most children as of 20th March. This includes both state-funded and independent schools.

The majority of educational settings will remain open for children of critical workers and vulnerable children. There is no requirement to send your children to school during this time if you do not need or wish to.


How to protect yourself from coronavirus and prevent a spread

As COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a new virus strain, it is not completely certain how it is spread. However, it is believed to be spread in a similar way to other viruses, through airborne cough droplets. When someone infected coughs or sneezes, the virus may be spread about one metre before the droplet hits the ground and is no longer airborne. Tests have shown that the coronavirus may last on some surfaces for as long as 3 days.

How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus

Precautions you can take in order to protect yourself from coronavirus and prevent it from spreading further include:

  • The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home
  • Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for over 20 seconds. Make sure to scrub under your nails, between your fingers and on the backs of your hands.
  • Use hand sanitiser gel when soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your face and mouth.
  • Clean surfaces regularly such as your phone, keyboard and door handles with anti-bacterial wipes.
  • Always sneeze or cough into a tissue, dispose of it and wash your hands promptly. If you do not have a tissue on hand, sneeze or cough into your elbow rather than your hands.
  • Avoid all non-essential travel.
  • Avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Cease all unnecessary visits to friends and relatives in care homes.
  • Only use the NHS where you really need to – you can reduce the burden on workers by getting advice on the NHS website where possible.

Do I need a face mask?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided some guidance about face masks and their effectiveness. You should only wear a face mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms or are taking care of someone with a suspected case of COVID-19. There is a world-wide shortage of masks and the World Health Organization (WHO) urges people to use masks wisely. Face masks are essential for those working in hospitals who are caring for COVID-19 patients.

Masks are only effective if you understand how to properly use and dispose of them. You can wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing. Make sure to use soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands before wearing a mask and after disposing of it. Avoid touching your mask and dispose of it as soon as it gets wet.


There is a world-wide shortage of masks and the World Health Organization (WHO) urges people to use masks wisely.


About the authors

Written by Dr Zubair Ahmed and Dr Johnson D’souza. Last updated 25th March 2020.

Dr Zubair Ahmed

Dr Zubair Ahmed is a GP and the Co-founder and CEO of Medicspot. He has been a doctor for 12 years after obtaining his medical degree from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He worked across a wide array of specialities including cardiology, accident and emergency, and geriatrics before focusing his energies on becoming a General Practitioner.

Dr Johnson D'souza

Dr Johnson D'souza is a General Practitioner and Medical Director at Medicspot. Dr D'souza has an interest in patient safety and clinical governance and has gained experience by undertaking roles including Performance Associate with the General Medical Council, Specialist Performance Advisor with the Care Quality Commission and Clinical Advisor with NHS England.


This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Medic Spot Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.