Anna Dunlop June 02, 2020

With coronavirus cases on the rise, being informed is an important part of staying safe. Here we answer some of the most common questions about COVID-19.

What is coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that affect mammals and birds. In humans, they cause respiratory tract infections and can be mild (such as the common cold) or more serious (such as SARS and MERS). The current outbreak is a new coronavirus strain that has not been seen in humans before, and has been named SARS-CoV-2. It is this new virus that is causing the illness COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms have ranged from mild to severe and include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Tiredness

Other reported symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Diarrhoea

How does the COVID-19 illness spread?

COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets from the nose or mouth when an infected person exhales, coughs or sneezes. These droplets land on nearby surfaces and other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch the virus if they breathe in the droplets from an infected person who coughs – so it is important to stay 2 metres away from a person who is sick, even if they have only mild symptoms.

It can take up to 14 days to become ill once a person has caught COVID-19. The time between catching the virus and showing symptoms is known as the incubation period. Even if a person doesn't show symptoms during this time, they may still be able to pass on the virus to someone else.

Can it be prevented or treated?

At present there is no vaccine or specific medicine to prevent or treat COVID-19. Because it is a virus, antibiotics are ineffective. However, care can be given to relieve symptoms and possible vaccines and drug treatments are being investigated.

How can I protect myself?

This is what EVERYONE in the UK should now be doing.

Social distancing is essentially taking steps to reduce your social interaction with other people. It will reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and is particularly important for people who fall into the at-risk groups - the over 70s, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes (for a full list see

Right now, everyone in the UK should still be practising social distancing:

  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people (in England, the distance is now 1 metre or more)
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if soap is not available) for at least 20 seconds when you get home.

Restrictions are starting to lift around the UK, but different rules apply in different areas. The below information is correct from July 4th 2020.


  • Two households of any size can meet indoors or outdoors and it doesn't have to be the same two households each time. Social distancing (over 1 metre) must be maintained unless the households are part of a bubble.
  • Outdoors, people from multiple households can meet up in groups of up to six (but two households can meet regardless of size)
  • There is no limit on the amount of time people can spend outside.
  • Exercise is now permitted with up to five others from different households, meaning small sports teams can resume fitness sessions. Social distancing must be maintained.
  • People can meet up anywhere and drive any distance to destinations such as parks or beaches.


  • Currently, up to eight people from three different households can meet, as long as they maintain social distancing. This while change from July 10th, where three households will be able to meet, indoors or outdoors.
  • There is no longer a five-mile travel limit, meaning people can meet up anywhere and travel for recreation.
  • Outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained - such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing - are allowed.


  • Currently, people from two different households in the same local area can now meet up outside - in parks or private gardens - but they must remain at least two metres apart. There is no limit on the number of people. Meeting up indoors is not allowed.
  • From Monday July 6th, travel restrictions will be lifted and outdoor attractions will be able to open.
  • Two households will also be able to stay together indoors from Monday.

Northern Ireland

  • Up to nine people who do not share a household can meet outdoors while maintaining social distancing.
  • Up to six people from two households can meet indoors, as long as they stay 2m apart.
  • There is no travel limit, meaning people can meet up anywhere.
  • Some sports including water activities, golf and tennis are permitted.

You should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Those with symptoms and those in contact with someone with symptoms should self-isolate and people who are high risk (see below) should be self-isolating for 12 weeks.

Read more: Social distancing and self-isolation explained

Am I high risk?

There is some evidence that those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and asthma are more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19. Those over 70 are also thought to be more vulnerable because their immune systems are weaker.

The Government has also identified certain groups as extremely vulnerable and at highest risk of serious illness. These include:

  • Organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers
  • People undergoing chemotherapy
  • People with blood cancers such as leukaemia or lymphoma
  • People having immunotherapy
  • People with severe lung conditions such as COPD, cystic fibrosis or severe asthma
  • Those taking medications that weaken their immune system
  • Pregnant women with serious heart conditions

(See or for the full list)

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus (a high temperature and a new continuous cough), it's important that you stay at home. Do not go to your GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital, as you could infect others. Try to avoid other people in your home as much as possible.

Use the NHS online 111 coronavirus service to get help and advice. Only call 111 if you can't get help online.

For more information on staying well during COVID-19, visit our coronavirus advice hub.

This information was correct at the time and date of publication. Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see for more information and the latest updates.



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