Young Scot's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Jargonbuster

There is lots of different language being used in the news about coronavirus or COVID-19 which might be confusing. We clear some of this up if you're not sure what everything means.


Coronaviruses are a large family of different viruses which can cause illness in animals or humans. Each coronavirus is slightly different, but in humans, they all cause issues with your respiratory system, which is what helps you breathe. This can range from something like the common cold to more serious infections or diseases. 


This is the name of the disease that is caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. It can affect your lungs and airways.


Asymptomatic means the absence of any symptoms of a disease.

This means that you could have an infection but not feel any ill effects or even notice any signs that you are suffering from it. Scientists believe the risk of passing on coronavirus if you're asymptomatic is low because it's mostly passed on through droplets which collect in the air when someone coughs. However, if you sneeze or have a cough, even a mild one, it is possible to pass on the virus. 

Chief Medical Officer

There are four Chief Medical Officers in the UK, one to represent each nation. In Scotland, Dr Catherine Calderwood is our Chief Medical Officer, and they are responsible for improving the mental and physical well-being of the people who live in the country. They have been giving information and advice to people who work in the NHS, as well as the public, about COVID-19.


There's been some confusion around what exactly counts as 'contact' when we talk about social distancing or isolation. Contact means more than physically touching others. Although the coronavirus doesn't seem to be in the air, it can be transmitted through droplets when people cough or sneeze. Avoiding contact means making sure you are always at least two metres away from other people during your daily exercise or when food shopping.

Contain phase

The UK Government has four different phases (contain, delay, research and mitigate) of dealing with COVID-19 to make sure the public are as safe as possible. The first phase we were in was the contain phase. The contain phase was about finding the first cases of COVID-19 in the country and making sure the people they were in close contact with were okay. It was about trying to make sure as few people caught it as possible. We have now moved into the delay phase. 

Coronavirus Act (formerly Coronavirus Bill) 

The Coronavirus Act is a law that came into effect on the 25th of March 2020. Its purpose is to give the UK Government emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. It includes powers to:

  • recruit NHS staff and social workers more quickly
  • relax certain regulations to ease the burden on key workers such as NHS staff
  • stop public gatherings in line with the measures introduced on the 23rd March
  • force businesses such as shops and restaurants to close

The Act is a temporary, emergency law put in place for up to two years, but may be extended if required. You can find out more about the Act on the website.

Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill

The emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was published on Tuesday 31 March. Subject to the Scottish Parliament’s approval, the Bill is likely to come into force next week.

Details can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website.  

Among other things, if the Bill passes it will:

  • extend protection from eviction for tenants while confined to their homes.  
  • lessen pressures on public services, business and consumers and enable continued operation of services while controls on movements are in place.
  • enable the justice system it to continue to deliver essential services.
The majority of measures in the Bill will automatically expire six months after coming into force.  They may be extended for two further periods of six months, giving a maximum duration of 18 months.

Delay phase 

The delay phase is the second phase and is about slowing down the spread of the virus and making sure that the NHS doesn't have too many patients at the same time - especially during the already busy winter period when lots of people tend to become unwell. 

Essential/key workers

'Essential' or 'key' workers include police, health and social staff, and people who work in shops selling food and other important products. A full list of jobs which are considered essential is available from the Scottish Government.

With schools closing, the Government has advised that children and young people should stay home wherever possible to lower the spread of the coronavirus. Schools will remain open only for those that absolutely can't stay at home. This includes children of 'essential' or 'key' workers, these are parents or carers that have a critical part to play in the COVID-19 response. 

Flatten the curve

You might have seen or heard this phrase quite a lot. It's about making sure that there isn't a big increase in people catching COVID-19 all at the same time to make sure that there are enough hospital beds, and medical staff, to look after everyone. By flattening the curve - making sure that there are fewer people all infected at the same time - the NHS will be less stressed, there will be fewer hospital visits on any given day and doctors and nurses will have more time to treat more people. This is achieved by things like social distancing, which makes sure that people stay away from each other to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.


If your job is affected by COVID-19 and, as a result, your employer can't cover your wages, they can apply for a Government grant for 80% (up to a cap of £2,500 a month) of your pay through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This would mean that you become 'furloughed'.

While you are furloughed, you stay on your employer's payroll but don't work for the duration. Your employer can choose to pay you the remaining 20% of your wage but doesn't have to. The Government intends for the scheme to last for three months from 1st March 2020, but will extend if necessary. More information is available on the website.

High temperature/fever

Your normal body temperature is approximately 37C (98.6F). A fever is usually when your body temperature is 38C (100.4F) or more. You may feel warm, cold or shivery. You can find out if you have a fever by using a thermometer to take your temperature.


Lockdown is not a technical term used by officials but is often the word used to describe when a government tells people to stay at home and restricts movement that is not urgent.  

For example, when the city of Wuhan in China and later the whole of Italy were described as going into ‘lockdown’ both countries stopped public transport, closed schools and told people to stay indoors unless they needed to get essential food or medical supplies.

The announcement made by the Prime Minister and First Minister on 23rd March is being described as a lockdown as additional restrictions have been put on how people go about their day-to-day lives. Our article, What is coronavirus and how does it affect me? has more information.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

PPE is the name given to the protective equipment worn by hospital healthcare workers who care for those with COVID-19. Because they're spending a lot of time close to possible or confirmed cases of COVID-19, it's important that they are protected from the coronavirus themselves. PPE includes alcohol hand gel, a gown, a visor or goggles, and a special kind of face mask called a respirator.

Prohibition notices

Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers are now able to issue prohibition notices to non-essential businesses (forcing them to close) and to people who aren't complying with guidance on public gatherings, to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. This is part of the Coronavirus Act passed on 25th March. Non-essential businesses include bars, restaurants and cinemas, as well as shops which don't sell essential products such as food and medicine. 


Quarantine involves people staying at home or another location to make sure that disease isn't spread. You don't need to have symptoms of the disease to be quarantined, it may be that you have travelled from a country that has a lot of cases of COVID-19 and they need to make sure you aren't carrying it. 


Self-isolation is when someone stays away from other people to make sure they don't spread infections to others. This normally means staying at home and not going outside or having visitors to your house. If you live with other people, the NHS advises to try and stay at least two meters (about three steps) away from other people in your home.

People who are self-isolating are asked to avoid public transport, to not share items like towels and toothbrushes with other people and to ask for neighbours, friends and family to support with essential food shopping and/or collecting medicine that can be left at your door.

The UK Government are advising if you have a high temperature (explained above) or a new cough, that you 'self-isolate' and stay at home for seven days. Read the Government advice on what to do if you need to self-isolate.


This involves staying further away from people to make sure that people don't become unwell. The UK Government has given its definition of social distancing to include:

  • avoiding contact with people who are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 which include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough;
  • avoiding non-essential use of public transport, trying your best to avoid rush hour if you can
  • working from home if this is an option for your job;
  • avoiding large gatherings such as concerts and in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs (all non-essential shops have been asked to close as of the evening of 23rd March);
  • avoiding gatherings with friends and family (as of the evening of 23rd March, gatherings of more than two people outside of the home are banned - excluding people you live with). Instead, use your phone or social media to keep in touch;
  • calling or going online to contact your GP or other essential services.

World Health Organisation (WHO)

The World Health Organisation is made up of lots of different health experts across 194 member states and 150 offices. They work together to make sure that people across the globe are safe from disease as well as poor mental and physical health. They also work together with countries to help them manage any health problems or emergencies they are facing. In terms of COVID-19, they've done research into how it's spread, given advice on how to test for the virus, and helped countries respond by providing advice and information. 

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19)