Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A coronavirus is a type of virus. Typical symptoms include fever, a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

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.

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, China. This is a rapidly changing situation which is being monitored carefully.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Common symptoms include:

  • high temperature or fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Self-help guide: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Use this guide to find out what to do next if you have developed any of these symptoms since arriving from an affected area.

Self-help guide

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Which areas are affected by coronavirus?

We have identified certain areas where people are at higher risk of getting coronavirus. This includes:

  • China
  • Thailand
  • Japan
  • Republic of Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Taiwan
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • Macau

Been to Wuhan City or other parts of Hubei province, including transit through Hubei? 

What to do if you have symptoms

If you have any of the symptoms above (high temperature, cough, shortness of breath) within 14 days of travel to Wuhan City or other parts of Hubei province, get immediate medical attention by contacting your GP or NHS24 (phone 111). You should not go to your GP practice in person, but should telephone for advice from home.

No symptoms

Even if you have no symptoms, please follow this advice for 14 days following your return from Hubei:

  • Stay indoors
  • Avoid contact with others where possible

This means you should remain at home and should not go to work/school/ public areas, or use public transport/taxis. It is okay for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food.

Been to any other risk area, apart from Hubei province, including transit through a risk area? 

What to do if you have symptoms 

If you have any of the symptoms above (high temperature, cough, shortness of breath) within 14 days of travel to a risk area, get immediate medical attention by contacting your GP or NHS24 (111). You should not attend your GP practice in person, but should telephone for advice from home.

No symptoms  

If you have been in any other risk area apart from Hubei province, and you have no symptoms then you can go about your normal activities. If you become unwell within 14 days of your return, please follow the advice above.

Am I at risk if I returned from a risk area more than 14 days ago? 

If you returned more than 14 days ago from a risk area but developed symptoms within 14 days and still feel unwell then telephone your GP or NHS 24 (111). 

Contact with someone who has been confirmed as having coronavirus

If in the past 14 days you have been in contact with someone who has been confirmed as having the coronavirus infection, please remain at home and call your GP or NHS24 for further advice. You should not attend your GP practice in person, but should telephone for advice from home.

Travel advice 

More advice on travel can be found on Fit for Travel and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Up to date information on the situation in Scotland is being published by the Scottish Government.

How is coronavirus spread between people?

Because it's a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person, but similar viruses spread by droplets generated in coughs and sneezes. 

How long do you need to be in contact with someone to pick up coronavirus? 

If you are a contact of someone who is identified as a confirmed case of coronavirus infection, a health professional will be in touch with you to undertake an individual risk assessment covering a range of factors including the level of contact you have had with the case. 

How soon after contact with coronavirus do people become unwell?

Because this is a new virus, we do not know enough to have a precise incubation period. Experience of other similar viruses suggests symptoms are likely to develop within a few days of exposure. Based on current information, public health advice is that anyone potentially exposed should be alert to any symptoms for 14 days after their last possible exposure.

What can be done to prevent infection with coronavirus?

Advice has been issued for people who have recently been in any of the risk areas so that the possibility of them passing on the virus is minimised. This advice includes self-isolation for people who have recently been in Wuhan City or other parts of Hubei province even if they have no symptoms. Anyone who has recently been in any risk area, and who is unwell is being managed according to national guidelines to reduce the risk of transmission of the illness.

You can reduce your risk of acquiring and spreading respiratory infections by practising good respiratory hygiene, such as:

  • avoiding direct hand contact with your eyes, nose and mouth
  • maintaining good hand hygiene - washing hands with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser, after coughing or sneezing, after going to the toilet, and prior to eating and drinking
  • wherever possible avoid direct contact with people that have a respiratory illness and avoid using their personal items such as their mobile phone
  • when coughing or sneezing cover your nose and mouth with disposable tissues and dispose of them in the nearest waste bin after use

Will wearing a mask help to prevent spreading coronavirus? 

There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of face-masks as a useful preventative measure for the general public.

How long can coronavirus survive outside the body?

Coronavirus is a newly emerging virus so there haven’t been any studies on how long it might survive outside the body. Other coronaviruses have been shown to survive on hard surfaces for at least 48 hours, so proper cleaning is very important. 

If you have been in contact with someone who has returned from any of the risk areas in the last 14 days

People who have been in any of the risk areas are being given specific advice to reduce the possibility of transmission.

As cases arise in the UK, health professionals will aim to contact anyone who has been in close contact with the infected person.

If you have not been contacted, be reassured you are extremely unlikely to catch coronavirus.

Is there a risk of passing on infection through shared use of or contact with towels or bed linen used by a person who develops the infection?

Washing at 60 degrees C with a detergent is effective at killing viruses and bacteria on towels and other fabrics. It is good hygiene practice for anyone who has any symptoms of respiratory illness to use their own towels.

Is it not possible for other members of the household to have caught any potential symptoms from visitors to risk areas without symptoms being displayed – should all household members not stay at home for 14 days as well? 

Whilst it may be possible to transmit the virus before symptoms are shown this risk remains low and it is not necessary for other household members to self-isolate at home. 

Treatment for coronavirus

Currently, there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the virus. 

I am pregnant - what should I do if I come into contact with people who have travelled to risk areas?

Coronavirus is a type of virus which is common across the world. Generally, coronavirus and other viruses such as influenza can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems, including those who are pregnant. Currently the risk of contracting coronavirus is much lower than contracting influenza; you should therefore take extra care with your hygiene during pregnancy to avoid all respiratory infections especially influenza that is much more common. 

I travelled back from a risk area via other airports. How long do I need to be alert for symptoms?  

Your 14 day incubation period starts on the last day you were in any of the risk areas or in transit through a risk area. You should follow the advice for the specific areas you have travelled in for 14 days from the last date you were in a risk area. 

I have had a negative test for coronavirus. Can I go about my usual activities? 

No. Even if you have had a negative test result you still need to self-isolate (see guidance below) and there are still circumstances when you may need to be re-tested. 

If you have returned from Hubei province, including Wuhan

If you receive a negative coronavirus test result, but you are still within the 14-day observation period then you should remain in self-isolation until the end of these 14 days. This advice applies whether you continue to have symptoms or your symptoms resolve within the 14 day period since your return from Hubei. 

If you have returned from any other risk area apart from Hubei province

If you receive a negative coronavirus test result, you should remain in self-isolation until either your symptoms resolve or until the end of your 14-day observation period if your symptoms persist.

For anyone who has received a negative test result

If your symptoms worsen or new symptoms develop within the 14 day observation period, you should telephone your GP or NHS24 (111) even if you have had already had a negative test result, as you may need to be retested.

I have been tested for coronavirus and the test was negative, but I am feeling worse or have new symptoms. 

Even if you have already had a negative test, if your symptoms worsen or you develop new symptoms within 14 days of returning from any risk area, or your last contact with a person known to have been infected with coronavirus, then telephone your GP or NHS24 (111) again, as you may need to be retested.

I have heard that someone who attends my workplace/my child’s school/etc is being tested/assessed as a possible case. What should I do?

You do not need to take any specific actions as long as you/your child remain well. When a positive case is identified the NHS will undertake contact tracing to identify anyone who meets agreed criteria as a close contact. Specific advice will then be offered depending on the level of contact you have had.

Contact tracing may also be undertaken for people undergoing testing before confirmation is received if the case is severely unwell.

If you think you may be a contact of someone who is being tested or assessed for coronavirus and you develop symptoms of cough, fever or shortness of breath, you should call your GP or NHS24 (111).

I am a healthcare worker (HCW) who has returned from, or been in transit through a risk area within the past 14 days. What should I do?

It is important that you should not attend a healthcare setting if there is a risk that you could spread coronavirus.

Healthcare workers with symptoms

If you have fever or respiratory symptoms, however mild, within 14 days of return to the UK from a risk area you must not attend work. You should remain at home and contact your GP or NHS24 (111) by phone immediately for advice.

Healthcare workers without symptoms

If you have travelled to a risk area, you should:

  • notify your line manager and occupational health manager immediately if you have already returned to work
  • if not already at work, notify your line manager and occupational health manager before returning to work

A risk assessment will be undertaken and you will be advised on whether they can return to work or should self-isolate.

I am a healthcare worker (HCW) who lives with someone who is unwell and who has returned from or been in transit through a risk area within the past 14 days. What should I do?

If you are a HCW with no symptoms living with someone who has travelled to a risk area and is unwell, you should not attend work and should contact your line manager and occupational health department for advice. You will need to be excluded from work until test results of the contact are available. 

Self-isolation advice

If you have been told to self-isolate to reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus, please follow this advice 

Like when you have the flu, you should remain at home and should not go to work, school or public areas. Where possible, you should avoid having visitors to their home, but it is OK for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food. You should not use public transport or taxis until 14 days after your return from risk areas/last exposure to a case, if advised to self isolate.

You should monitor your symptoms and call NHS 24 or your GP if you develop any of the following symptoms – fever, cough, or shortness of breath. You should not attend your GP practice in person, but should telephone for advice from home.

Why do I need to self-isolate if I have no symptoms?

This is a changing situation and the advice is based on recent information from China about the number of cases and spread of the infection from person to person. This is a highly precautionary measure to limit the potential spread of infection. 

Am I allowed to go out to the shops to get food? If I need to collect medicine from the pharmacist, what should I do? 

During self-isolation you should stay at home and avoid public places. Where possible, contact a friend, family member or delivery services to carry out errands on your behalf. 

Who will take my children to school? 

During self-isolation you should stay at home and avoid public places. Where possible, contact a friend or family member to take your children to school, as long as the children have not travelled with you to the risk areas. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) helpline

If you do not have symptoms and are looking for general information, a free helpline has been set up on 0800 028 2816.

The helpline is open:

  • Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 10.00pm
  • Saturday and Sunday, 9.00am to 5.00pm

Coronavirus (COVID-19) communication toolkit

We have developed a toolkit containing a poster, video and social media posts for organisations to print and share.

Download the Coronavirus (COVID-19) communication toolkit (ZIP, 8.4 MB)

Further information

More advice on travel can be found on Fit for Travel and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Up to date information on the situation in Scotland is being published by The Scottish Government.

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