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Coronavirus (COVID-19) - what you need to know

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Coronavirus (COVID-19), Global health, Health Protection
Coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of a SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus particle isolated from a UK case of the disease Covid-19.

Updated 27 May 2020

On Monday 11th May, the Government set out a roadmap for how and when the UK will adjust its response to the COVID-19 crisis.

In this blog we’ll answer some of the questions many people have. We’ll update this blog as new information becomes available.

Please note we cannot answer any questions that relate to individual health concerns.

What is coronavirus and should I be concerned?

A coronavirus is a type of virus. As a group, coronaviruses are common across the world.

Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, older people, and those with long term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of this new virus?

The most common symptoms of this new coronavirus (COVID-19) are:

  • a new continuous cough
  • high temperature
  • a loss of, or change to, your sense of smell or taste.

Some people may also experience muscle aches, tiredness and shortness of breath.

How does this new coronavirus spread?

The main route of transmission is from cough and sneeze droplets. These droplets fall on people in the vicinity and can be directly inhaled or picked up on the hands and transferred when someone touches their face.

How long any respiratory virus survives will depend on a number of factors; for example:

  • what surface the virus is on
  • whether it is exposed to sunlight
  • differences in temperature and humidity
  • exposure to cleaning products

Under most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so by 48 hours.

Am I allowed to leave my house?

It is still very important that people stay home unless necessary to go out for specific reasons set out in law. These include:

  • for work, where you cannot work from home
  • going to shops that are permitted to be open – to get things like food and medicine, and to collect goods ordered online or on the phone
  • to exercise or, from Wednesday 13 May, spend time outdoors for recreation
  • any medical need, to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

You should stay safe when you leave home: washing your hands regularly, maintaining social distancing, and ensuring you do not gather in groups of more than two, except with members of your household or for other specific exceptions set out in law

Read the full guidance on staying safe and alert (social distancing). 

What else can I do to make sure I don’t catch coronavirus?

In addition to reducing your contact with other people, there are things you can do to help stop germs like coronavirus spreading:

  • always carry tissues with you and use them to catch your cough or sneeze. Then bin the tissue, and wash your hands, or use a sanitiser gel
  • wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds each time with soap and water or hand sanitiser, especially when you:
    • get home or into work
    • blow your nose, sneeze or cough
    • eat or handle food
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • avoid close contact with people who are unwell

Read more in our blog about some of the other simple and effective actions everyone can take to protect themselves and their wider community.

How many cases do we have in the UK?

As of 9am 27 May, there have been 3,798,490 tests, with 117,013 tests on 26 May. 267,240 people have tested positive. As of 5pm on 26 May, of those tested positive for coronavirus, across all settings, 37,460 have sadly died.

We will update these figures daily.

How do I apply for a coronavirus test?

As part of the government’s 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing,  people who have coronavirus-like symptoms are being tested to see if they currently have the virus.

You can ask for a test:

  • for yourself, if you have coronavirus symptoms now (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste)
  • for someone you live with, if they have coronavirus symptoms

You can also apply for a test if you have a clinical referral from NHS 111 online.

Can I travel abroad?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)  advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This applies for an indefinite period due to unprecedented international border closures and other restrictions. All countries may restrict travel without notice.

Read the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s travel advice page for more information.

Is hand sanitiser effective?

The best way to protect yourself from infections like coronavirus is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water. If soap or water aren’t available and your hands are visibly clean, then sanitiser gel can be used. But proper hand washing is the most effective method and this should be your first choice.

Should people wear face masks to protect themselves from infection?

Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely in order to be effective.

Should I wear a face covering?

Face coverings offer minimal benefit to the wearer, but may help you protect others and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus but not showing any symptoms.

Consider wearing a face covering if you have to use public transport to get to work, or are visiting a busy enclosed space where you can’t social distance such as a crowded shop.

See our guidance for instructions on making your own face covering at home.

How do we know if the virus is evolving?

PHE has used whole genome sequencing to sequence the viral genome from the first two positive cases in this country and has made the sequence available to the scientific community. Our findings are consistent with viral genomes sequenced in China, and we are not seeing changes that suggest the virus has evolved in the last month.

What advice have professional groups being given?

We have produced a range of advice for health professionals and other organisations such as schools and businesses. This is all available on

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