Last updated 03/06/2021 at 11:00
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.
Alert level (COVID-19)
The alert level system lets people know how tough social distancing rules should be, based on how much the virus is spreading and the risk of the NHS becoming too busy with COVID-19 patients. The level is set by the Joint Biosecurity Centre who look at changes in infection rates. Their recommendations are then reviewed and agreed by the Chief Medical Officers of the four UK nations.
There are five different levels. Level five involves extreme social distancing, and would mean going into lockdown. Level four means there is a high or rising level of transmission - so social distancing would be enforced. Level three means the virus is in general circulation and social distancing would be relaxed. Level two means transmission and cases of COVID-19 are low so there would be minimal social distancing. Level one would mean that COVID-19 is no longer present in the UK - and there would be no social distancing - things would go back to 'normal'.
What's important throughout all these alert levels is to keep physically distant from other people, to wear face coverings and to wash your hands regularly.
This is a test to see if you've had the COVID-19 virus at some point in the past. When you have a disease, your body produces things called antibodies to fight it and these can remain in your system after the disease has went away.
Therefore, if an antibody test finds that there are antibodies for COVID-19 in your system, it indicates that you have had the disease.
In some cases having a disease once means you have increased immunity to catching it again because of the antibodies in your system. However, there is currently no strong evidence yet to suggest that people who have had COVID-19 develop long-lasting immunity which would prevent them from getting the virus again.
This is a test to see if you have the COVID-19 virus. The results will come back either positive or negative and will let people know if they have the virus or not. A type of antigen test is the PCR procedure (or polymerase chain reaction), which you might hear referred to in the news.
You may also hear this referred to as the 'Indian variant', or to give it its official name 'B.1.617.2', and it is one of several variations of COVID-19 thought to have originated in India and since been found in the UK, including Scotland. It is thought to be more transmissible when compared to other strains and is therefore considered a 'Variant of Concern' by the World Health Organisation. While it is too early to tell, it is also thought that existing COVID-19 vaccinations are effective against it.
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 (CMO)
There are four Chief Medical Officers in the UK, one to represent each nation. In Scotland, Dr Gregor Smith is the interim Chief Medical Officer (appointed on 6th April 2020), and they are responsible for improving the mental and physical well-being of the people who live in the country. The CMO gives information and advice to people who work in the NHS, as well as the public, about COVID-19.
This a term being used to talk about reducing the transmission of COVID-19 in the UK. A circuit breaker is a switch used to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by excess current. Similarly, a 'circuit breaker' style lockdown is being discussed to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed by too many COVID-19 patients. To do this they need to reduce the level of transmission (break the current) by bringing in stricter measures for a short period of time.
COBR stands for Cabinet Office Meeting Rooms. It's often referred to as COBRA. These rooms at 70 Whitehall are where ministers meet to discuss matters of national emergency or major disruption that will impact the country and will need lots of different people to work together to solve a problem or help protect people. COBR’s purpose is to keep ministers informed of the situation that is happening, to make sure the government is agreed on what to do, to record and let ministers/officials know about key decisions being made as well as any new updates, and to provide ministers and the Prime Minister with up to date information on the situation for any decisions that they may need to make.
This is when someone who hasn't been to an area that has coronavirus (COVID-19), tests positive for for the virus. It means that the virus is spreading in the community.
There's been some confusion around what exactly counts as 'contact' when we talk about social distancing or isolation. From Thursday 28th May, the Scottish Government introduced a system called 'Test and Protect' that involves tracing people who have had close contact with others testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). The First Minister has said that the following is considered as people who have had 'close contact' with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus:
- People within the same household
- People who have had face-to-face contact
- People who have been within two metres the person testing positive for a period of 15 minutes or more
Specialist tracers get in touch with anyone who is believed to have had 'close contact' with a positive case of coronavirus, and they are instructed to self-isolate for 10 days.
On Wednesday 9th September, a new app 'Protect Scotland' launched. The app will let you know if you've been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Also, if you test positive for coronavirus, the app will let the people you've spent time with know that they've been near someone that has tested positive. The app is anonymous, so you won't know who you've been in contact with that has tested positive. Also, people won't know if any alerts they get are about you. It works via Bluetooth but doesn't track your location.
Find out more about the Protect Scotland app.
The First Minister has said that the follow will be considered as people who have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus:
- People within the same household
- People who have had face-to-face contact
- People who have been within two metres the person testing positive for a period of 15 minutes or more
Specialist tracers will get in touch with anyone who is believed to have had 'close contact' with a positive case of coronavirus and they will be instructed to self-isolate for 10 days.
Contact tracing is about how many people you might have come into contact (described above) with. If you develop COVID-19, then the people you have been around should isolate for 10 days, as they may have potentially caught the virus from you, this process is called contact tracing. This helps protect other people that you've been in contact with from spreading the virus to other people.
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 gov.scot website.
Coronavirus (Scotland) Act (formerly Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill)
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act received royal assent and came into effect on the 7th of April 2020. It complements the UK Coronavirus Act by granting the Scottish Government emergency powers around devolved matters (things like housing and justice, which the Scottish Government is responsible for).
Details can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website.
Among other things, the Act:
- extends protection from eviction for tenants while confined to their homes.
- lessens pressures on public services, business and consumers and enables continued operation of services while controls on movements are in place.
- enables the justice system to continue to deliver essential services.
The majority of measures in the Act 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.
Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill
This was introduced to the Scottish Parliament, and it will go through three stages before it potentially becomes law. This gives MSP's time to read the bill, debate on it, make any changes and then vote of whether or not they approve of it.
If approved it will give the Scottish Government powers to:
- give additional support to unpaid carers, adding an extra allowance of £230 to their Carer’s Allowance Supplement
- help students end their tenancy in student accommodation
- support people facing bankruptcy
The new Bill follows emergency legislation previously passed by the Scottish and UK Parliaments to assist in the response to the pandemic.
'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.
Due to the coronavirus COVID-19 being a very serious disease that in severe cases can cause death, more people are unfortunately dying than is normal.
If you see or hear the phrase 'excess deaths', it's referring to the number of extra deaths that have been recorded in a period of time over what was expected.
It is worked out using past figures to calculate what the total number of people in a population expected to die in a given timeframe is, and then comparing that number against the actual number of deaths there have been.
Anything above what was expected is described as 'excess deaths'
If you are an adult and you live alone, or if everyone else in your household is under 18, you and one other household can agree to form an 'extended household'. This might mean if you have a Grandparent that lives alone, they can now visit you at your house and stay over the night and together you form an extended household.
Adult non cohabiting partners (e.g if you and a person you are in a relationship with don't live in the same house together), as well any children under 18 in the household, can form extended households without physical distancing.
Everyone in the extended household will be able to act, and will be treated, as if they live in one household - meaning they can spend time together inside each others’ homes and not need to stay at least two metres apart.
If someone in an extended household has symptoms of coronavirus, even if they live in a different house, all members of the extended household will need to immediately isolate for 10 days from the start of symptoms.
The Scottish Government have more information on extended households.
Extremely high risk (or people most at risk)
COVID-19 can make anyone become unwell. But there are some people who are more likely to become very unwell if they were to get coronavirus. The people most at risk are being contacted by the NHS. People who are extremely high risk include those having treatment for cancer, have a lung condition like cystic fybrosis or severe asthma or are taking medicine that makes them more likely to get infections. You can find a list on the NHS website. If you're extremely high risk you need to do something known as 'shielding' which is defined below.
A fatality is a death.
Coronavirus, in severe cases, can cause death so you might come across the term “fatality rate” in the news about coronavirus but it can mean different things depending on the context.
There are two main fatality rates.
The first is the proportion of people who die who have tested positive for the disease compared to the total number who have tested positive. This is called the “case fatality rate”.
The second kind is the proportion of people who die after having the infection overall; many of these will never be picked up for example because they haven't been tested for COVID-19, this figure has to be an estimate. This is the “infection fatality rate”.
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.
Four nation approach
This is also known as the four-nation exit strategy. This is how the UK government and each devolved Government (the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Irish Government) will start to lift the lockdown rules. Because each devolved Government is in charge of things like health and education in their nation, UK ministers cannot simply enforce a UK-wide approach. It will involve the decisions that the UK Government make that apply to all of the UK, decisions taken between four governments working together and decisions taken by each devolved Government. Each government may bring their nation out of lockdown at different speeds based on the evidence they have.
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 until October 2020. More information is available on the gov.uk website.
Find out more in our article about how your work might have been impacted by COVID-19.
Scotland currently has 14 NHS health boards. Each health board covers a different area of Scotland and is responsible for the delivery of health care and services to the local population. For example, if you live on the Isle of Harris, your health board would be NHS Western Isles. Each health board will have some influence on local lockdowns and local restrictions.
Find out more about your health board.
High risk (or people at increased risk)
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.
A household is everyone who stays in the same living area. For example, all the people living in one house or flat would be considered as part of the same household. People in your household might be your flatmates, friends or family members.
There are some important rules to follow if someone in your household develops coronavirus symptoms or if they are a vulnerable person. You can read these on the NHS Inform website.
Currently, we are being asked to exercise either alone or with members of your household. When you do go outside, you must stay at least two metres away from anyone else that isn’t from your household. This includes friends and family members who you do not currently live with.
Intensive care unit (ICU)
Intensive care is a special hospital ward where specialist medical staff look after those who are very ill - you might sometimes hear it referred to as ICU, critical care or intensive therapy. Intensive care units have more staff and fewer patients, so more one-to-one care can be provided.
If somebody is admitted to intensive care because of COVID-19, it may be because they need sedation or ventilation because the virus is affecting their ability to breathe on their own.
Lateral Flow Device Test (LFD)
A lateral flow test is a testing technique that is currently being used in different parts of the UK.
It involves a handheld kit that gives a result in about 30 minutes and doesn't need to be sent to a lab for analysis. Fluid from a nasal swab or saliva goes on one end, then a marking appears if you are positive.
LFDs are the tests being offered to students across Scotland who are returning home for the winter break and to S4, S5 and S6 students. You can read more about what this process will involve at scot.gov.
The levels framework consists of 5 different levels that help guide which restrictions should be in place and where. The levels are from level 0 to level 4, depending on the level in your area, you'll have to follow certain rules and restrictions to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. These levels can be applied to the whole of Scotland or applied to more specific areas that might be facing a cluster of outbreaks.
For example, one local authority may be classed as level 3 and therefore face level 3 restrictions.
Find out more about the levels framework.
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 often described as a lockdown as additional restrictions were put on how people go about their day-to-day lives. Our article, What are the coronavirus (COVID-19) rules in Scotland right now? has more information.
This is a term that you may have seen used in the news. There is no medical definition for it however it is used to describe people who have suffered from COVID-19 and had symptoms that have continued for weeks or months.
For most people who catch coronavirus, they experience either no symptoms or mild ones that go away after a while.
Some people though have reported suffering from symptoms for a longer period of time, these can range from fatigue, breathlessness, a persistent cough, joint pain, muscle aches, hearing and eyesight issues, headaches, loss of smell and taste and even damage to the heart, gut, kidneys and lungs. This is what is referred to as ‘long covid’.
This term is used to describe programmes that aim to test all, or large parts, of a population. Currently in Scotland there are mass testing initiatives for students and also in areas where there are high rates of COVID-19 transmission including Glasgow, Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire and Renfrewshire.
It aims to cut rates of transmission by identifying positive cases in people who are not showing symptoms and may otherwise not have been identified.
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
This is the agency responsible for regulating all medicines and medical devices in the UK by ensuring they work and are acceptably safe.
MHRA carried out a review of a coronavirus vaccine that was developed by pharmaceutical company Pfizer in partnership with biotechnology company BioNTech. In December 2020, MHRA announced that they had approved the vaccine for use in the UK.
National Clinical Director
The National Clinical Director is Jason Leitch.
They are responsible for quality in the health and social care system.
This means they looks after things like patient safety and person-centred care, NHS planning and bringing in new ways to improve these areas in Scotland.
New continuous cough
A new, continuous cough is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. The Scottish Government defines a new continuous cough as:
- having a new cough that’s lasted for an hour
- having had 3 or more episodes of coughing in 24 hours
- coughing more than usual.
NHS Louisa Jordan
NHS Louisa Jordan is the name of the temporary emergency hospital in Scotland set up to treat patients with COVID-19. NHS Louisa Jordan is in Glasgow at the Scottish Events Campus (SEC) and will have capacity for 1000 patients.
The hospital is named after Louisa Jordan, a Scottish nurse who served and died in the First World War.
For more information, visit NHS Louisa Jordan.
NHS Nightingale is the name of temporary emergency hospitals being set up in England to treat patients with COVID-19. The first NHS Nightingale hospital was set up in London in the Excel Centre, it has now started to accept patients and will be able to look after 4000 patients. There are further sites planned in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Harrogate, Sunderland and Exeter.
The temporary hospitals are named after Florence Nightingale, famously the founder of modern nursing.
For more information, visit NHS Nightingale.
A pandemic is the global spread of a disease which most people aren't immune to. An epidemic is a similar sudden increase in cases, but an epidemic is generally limited to a single country or community.
Whether an outbreak is categorised as a pandemic is unrelated to the characteristics of the disease itself - only its spread. In general, a pandemic is declared when there is a second 'wave' of infection which doesn't include people who have travelled from other infected countries or those they have been in contact with. It means that a disease is likely to spread through the community from person to person, and alerts those in charge of healthcare to prepare for it.
For more information, visit the World Health Organisation.
Pfizer is an American pharmaceutical company and BioNTech is a German biotechnology company.
They partnered to develop a coronavirus vaccine that was approved in December 2020 for use in the UK.
Polymerase Chain Reaction Test (PCR)
This is a type of testing technique currently being used to identify positive cases of COVID-19 in the UK, it meets an international gold standard due to being extremely accurate.
If you go to a testing centre, this is the type of test you will get and it can be self-administered or carried out with support from testing staff.
It is a nasal-pharyngeal swab and there are two parts to it. First is the ‘pharyngeal’ part, which means using a long cotton bud to stroke your tonsils for a few moments. The ‘nasal’ part is next, which means inserting another long cotton bud about 2.5cm into your nose for another swab – move it around a bit to swab properly.
The process for testing is the same for everyone at the moment, even for small children or people with additional support needs. Find out more about getting a COVID-19 test.
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.
Physical distancing (or social distancing)
Physical or social distancing means taking steps to help reduce the spread of infection and to reduce the number of people becoming unwell with coronavirus (COVID-19).
No matter if you are indoors or outdoors, if you're over the age of 12 you should ensure you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household and continue to practice good hygiene. There are some businesses which are allowed to relax the two metre rule down to one metre, but this should be clearly signposted so if you're unsure stick to two!
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.
R0 / Rate of infection
R0 is a a calculation that lets us know how contagious (how easy it is to catch) a disease is. It calculates how many people one infectious person may pass the disease onto. They use lots of different things to calculate this rate: how long a person is infectious for, the number of people a person with the infection will be in contact with, and how the infection is spread (is it through blood or saliva, or do you need to just be near somebody to be able to catch it?) If R0 is less than 1, each existing infection causes less than one new infection. In this case, the disease will decline and eventually die out.
Early estimates from the World Health Organisation advised that the R0 rate for COVID-19 was between 1.4 and 2.5, further research is being done to fully understand the R0 for COVID-19 in the UK.
This is the Scottish Government's plan for that details how Scotland is coming out of lockdown.
There are four phases on the route map, each with different examples of what people, organisations and businesses can expect to change as we gradually continue to leave lockdown. We are currently in Phase Three, you can read what that means and what the next steps are in our article.
If the evidence shows that less people are catching and transmitting COVID-19, that there are less people going to hospital or intensive care because of COVID-19 and that are there are less deaths, then the Scottish Government will continue to gradually lift restrictions on certain dates. However the plan is flexible and if the evidence suggests that things aren't safe to do, these plans may be changed or certain restrictions may be brought back in.
You can read more about what each Phase will allow you to do on the Scottish Government website.
You might have heard SAGE being mentioned in the daily briefings from the UK Government. They are talking about the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. It is made up of different scientific and academic experts, and the people who are a part of this group will change depending on what the Government needs advice on.
SAGE is currently looking at the most up-to-date data they have about the coronavirus (CVOID-19) outbreak (for example, how many people have it, and ow many people are in hospital) to try and figure out what we need to do to protect the public and stop the spread of the virus. SAGE will also request research in areas they need more information on - right now they have asked for research to be done on whether the public should be wearing masks when going to the shops/going outside. They will gather all this information and use it to advise the Government on what to do.
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 Scottish Government are advising if you have a high temperature (explained above), a loss of or change in taste or smell, or a new continuous cough, that you 'self-isolate' and book a coronavirus test and then follow the instructions given once you receive your results. Find out more about booking a test on the NHS website.
If you're in the extremely high risk group, described above, you may have been shielding earlier on in the coronavirus outbreak. Shielding guidelines were paused from 1st August, this means people who've been shielding can follow general public health guidance.
Social care and support refers to services that can help you if you:
- need practical support because of illness and/or disability
- care for someone receiving social care and support
For example, this could include:
- help at home from a paid carer
- meals on wheels
- having your home adapted
- equipment and household gadgets
- personal alarms and home security systems so you can call for help (for instance, if you have a fall)
- different types of housing, such as sheltered housing and care homes
Test and Protect / Test, trace, isolate, support
This is the strategy the Sottish Government will use to try and protect people from COVID-19 whilst also trying to make some of the lockdown measures less strict.
It involves finding cases of COVID-19 through testing, tracing the people who may have become infected by spending time in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, and then supporting the people who have been in contact with someone to self-isolate and be tested, so that if they have the virus they are less likely pass it on to others.
If someone is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, they will be asked to self-isolate while a test is arranged. If they test negative for COVID-19 they can stop self-isolating and contact tracing won't need to be done. If they test positive, they will have to self-isolate for 10 days, and contact tracing will begin. Anyone who has been in close contact with them will then be supported to self-isolate for 10 days. Close contact is defined as someone within your household, someone you have had face-to-face contact with or someone you have been within 2 metres of for 15 minutes or more.
Find out more about the Protect Scotland app, from NHS Scotland's Test and Protect.
A vaccine is something given to someone to help stop them from getting a disease.
If enough people are vaccinated, sometimes diseases can almost completely disappear and no longer be a danger to people as so many people are immune to it (not able to catch it or doesn't have an effect on them).
For example, diseases like measles and diphtheria have been reduced by up to 99.9% since their vaccines were introduced.
Find out more about how vaccines work on the NHS website.
A new variant is a mutation of a virus. Viruses mutate naturally as they replicate and it's to be expected.
Since December 2020, new variants of the coronavirus COVID-19 have been detected in different countries all over the world, including within the UK. Research into these new variants are ongoing as to whether they cause the virus to spread more quickly or make you more ill.
Some of the most common variants have been renamed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to simplify discussions but also to help remove some stigma from the names, so you might hear these names mentioned in the news.
This is the name for the B.1.1.7 variant originating in Kent, UK.
This is the name for the B.1.351 variant originating in South Africa.
This is the name for the P.1 variant originating in Brazil.
This is the name for the B.1.617.2 variant originating in India.
Coronaviruses, and the COVID-19 virus we are facing at the moment, impact your respiratory system, which is what helps you breathe. In severe cases, the virus causes damage to the lungs. Ventilators help people to breathe when their body is struggling to do so because of the virus.
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)