Public health matters

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

Coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of a SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus particle isolated from a UK case of the disease Covid-19.

Updated 7 April 2020

On Monday 23rd March 2020, the government announced that, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), people should only leave their homes for essential reasons.

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 and/or high temperature. 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?

In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), you should only leave your home for the following essential purposes:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • one form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household;
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Restaurants, pubs, non-essential shops and other businesses have closed. Essential businesses such as food shops and pharmacies remain open.

You should not meet up with friends or family members who don’t live in your house.

If someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus (a new continuous cough or high temperature), you should all stay inside the house for 14 days. Ask someone else to pick up supplies for you and leave them outside.

Read the full guidance on staying at home and away from others.

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 7 April, 266,694 tests have concluded, with 14,006 tests on 6 April. 213,181 people have been tested of which 55,242 tested positive. As of 5pm on 6 April, of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 6,159 have sadly died.

We will update these figures daily.

Will everyone who has symptoms get tested?

As we have now moved into the delay phase of the outbreak, we will start to change who gets tested. We now understand that the virus is widely circulating in the community which means that we should assume that anyone with symptoms has coronavirus.

We are working to increase the number of tests to 25,000 a day. This increased capacity is expected to be ready by the end of April.

Older and vulnerable groups will be prioritised, to ensure that they access the right treatment and care quickly. People who are generally well will not be tested and should manage their condition at home.

Can I travel abroad?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) now advises British people against all non-essential travel worldwide. This advice took effect on 17 March applies initially for a period of 30 days.

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

Will I still be told if I’ve come into contact with someone who has coronavirus?

In the contain phase of the outbreak, we were identifying all cases, tracing their contacts and following up with them to determine their level of risk and giving them advice and information on what to do should they become unwell

Now, because the virus is more widespread, we will not necessarily be able to determine where someone has contracted the virus and we will have a more targeted approach to contact tracing.

The targeted approach will likely include tracing close contacts of vulnerable people. For example, those in care homes or other institutions.

If you think you have been in contact with someone who has the virus, you no longer need to take action, unless you start to feel unwell yourself.

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.

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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  1. Comment by Esther Ekong posted on

    The question:
    Should I be doing anything to protect myself if I’m in the UK?
    which is meant to provide advice to all members of the public has not been answered

    • Replies to Esther Ekong>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Esther, this is a rapidly evolving situation which we are monitoring carefully but based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is low and no confirmed cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been detected in the UK.

      • Replies to Blog editor>

        Comment by Esther posted on

  2. Comment by Dee posted on

    Let us all hope you are right.

    Thank you for the information.

  3. Comment by Emily posted on

    What is your advice for those returning back to the UK from other provinces of China? (i.e. not Wuhan)

    • Replies to Emily>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Emily,

      • Health information will be available at airports with direct flights from China.
      • If there is evidence of sustained human to human transmission outside of China, we will update our enhanced monitoring measures in the relevant ports accordingly.
      • If you develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of travel to Wuhan, and are now in the UK, please stay indoors and avoid contact with others where possible, call your GP or ring 111 informing them of your symptoms and your recent travel to the city.
      • More information is available at

  4. Comment by Elle posted on

    In the light of the recent case in Germany where a symptomless Chinese employee from Shanghai passed the virus on to a German colleague in a meeting, two days before she herself felt unwell, why are we not stopping all flights from China to fully contain the virus? The US and other countries are starting to advise no travel to any part of China.

    • Replies to Elle>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Elle,

      • There has been no evidence of sustained human to human transmission outside China.
      • We believe Wuhan is the source of the virus, and we have a team of public health experts established in Heathrow to support anyone travelling in from China who feels unwell.
      • Health information will be available at airports with direct flights from China.
      • If there is evidence of sustained human to human transmission outside of China, we will update our enhanced monitoring measures in the relevant ports accordingly.
      • Our approach is at all times informed by the data shared by China and the WHO, and the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and independent experts.
      • As you would expect, we remain in close contact with the World Health Organization and other Government’s across the world.

  5. Comment by Morgan posted on

    Now there is two confirmed cases in the uk, what action does the public take now?
    - do you advise masks? Etc
    How do we now protect our selfs since the two cases have been confirmed ?

    • Replies to Morgan>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Morgan,
      Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals. However, there is very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective. Research also shows that compliance with these recommended behaviours reduces over time when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods. People concerned about the transmission of infectious diseases would do better to prioritise good personal, respiratory and hand hygiene.

  6. Comment by Rob posted on

    Can the virus survive on Cargo if the packages have originated from an affected area.
    We deal with China extensively and have concerned employees in our distribution Centres.
    Thank you

    • Replies to Rob>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Rob,

      There is no current evidence to suggest that the virus can be transmitted from (post/packages/parcels) from China.

      • Replies to Blog editor>

        Comment by Rob posted on

        Thank you for the prompt response.
        And thank you for all the work you are doing in relation this Virus.
        The blog and the information here is very useful and is appreciated by many.

  7. Comment by Machelle posted on

    Hello, what is the government's latest advice for recently returned travellers from other parts of mainland China, e.g. Beijing? Is self-isolation needed? If yes, how many days is necessary? Many thanks.

    • Replies to Machelle>

      Comment by Blog editor posted on

      Hi Machelle,

      If you have travelled from elsewhere in China (but not Macao or Hong Kong) to the UK in the last 14 days and develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should immediately stay indoors and avoid contact with other people as you would with the flu and call NHS 111 to inform them of your recent travel to the country. If you are in Northern Ireland, call 0300 200 7885.

  8. Comment by Helen Markwell posted on

    I work in a hospital and wanted to leave positive feedback as the hospital has provided notice boards on all the exits with advice on the virus and what to do if you think you have symptoms. All patients and staff are being urged to wash and gel hands before entering the hospital and any ward. This will help to remind anyone working in this enviroment the importance of the simple hand hygiene that takes a few moments of their time:)

  9. Comment by P Badrinath posted on

    Dear Editor,

    Your blog says "The symptoms of this new coronavirus (now known as COVID-19)".

    Is not the virus called SARS-CoV-2

    the disease COVID-19

    Many thanks.