What is Coronavirus and How Might It Affect Me?

Last Updated: 30/07/2020 at 11:43

The current coronavirus outbreak, or COVID-19 as it’s officially known, was first detected in China in December 2019, but has since spread to many countries including the UK.  

Coronaviruses are a group of infectious diseases that range from a common cold to a much more serious illness that affects your lungs and breathing. It makes people unwell, and in some cases, has led to serious illness and death. 

There have been cases of coronavirus in lots of different places around the world, including in the UK, which can make it seem quite scary. But you can take simple steps like washing your hands and keeping a stock of tissues for coughs and sneezes, that can really help prevent you from catching any kind of virus. 

What’s happening in Scotland?

The First Minister announced on May 28th that restrictions were being gradually lifted as of 29th May as part of a route map for coming out of lockdown. This is set out in four phases which will be put in place over time but exactly when is subject to scientific data supporting doing so.

The First Minister has stressed that the lifting of these restrictions doesn't mean that lockdown is now over. Rather, it's being gradually eased. 

As of 10th July, Scotland has entered Phase Three and we've outlined what's changed below. In Phase Three, you can now meet up with other households indoors and outdoors but will need to follow the below restrictions and remember physical distancing and hygiene advice. However, in one day you should not meet more than four other households in total, whether that's at one time or across several different meetings.

Remember, if you have symptoms of coronavirus or have been asked to self-isolate by a contact tracer (because you've come into contact with someone with coronavirus) you should self-isolate as per NHS Inform advice.

The advice in this article applies to people who are not shielding, unless otherwise stated. Some changes to shielding will come into place on July 24th, from then those shielding will be able to:

  • Meet outdoors with up to 15 people from four other households outdoors with physical distancing;
  • Use public transport whilst wearing a face covering;
  • Visit shops, pharmacies and indoor markets with a face covering;
  • Visit museums, galleries, libraries, cinemas and other visitor attractions with a face covering.

Shielding guidance will be paused in Scotland from August 1st, this means anyone shielding should follow the general guidance from that date. However, shielding may be re-introduced if scientific evidence suggest it is necessary.

Meeting others outdoors

You can now meet up outdoors with people from up to four other households in groups of no more than fifteen in a park or a garden (if you are shielding, this advice only applies from July 24th onwards). You should do the following while meeting members of other households:

  • Stay at least two meters apart from people who don't live in your household (unless you're aged 11 or under - see additional information below);
  • Avoid touching the same surfaces as people from another household (e.g sharing cutlery, plates, cups etc.);
  • Meet people from only four other households per day;
  • Continue to practice good hygiene and wash your hands as soon as you get home.

You may enter the home of another one of these households to use the toilet, see more information below about meeting up with other households indoors.

If you are shielding, you may meet up with people from two other households outside. You must follow the rest of the guidelines above. On 2nd July, the First Minister announced that young people who are shielding will be contacted in July by their doctor/clinician to advise whether they might be taken off the shielding list. Find out more in our FAQS.

If you are aged 11 or under

Unless you are shielding, you do not need to physically distance from children or adults. However, you must not meet more than four households at the same time, and you can't meet more than fifteen people at the same time. The adults you are with will have to stay physically distanced from other adults from different households. 

If you are aged 12-17 years old

You can still only meet with four other households with a maximum of fifteen people at the same time, but you can meet different groups at different times of the day, as long as everyone is following the rules. You must remain physically distant (2 metres apart).

This means, for example, you can meet four friends from different households in the morning and then in the afternoon, meet four other friends from two different households.

Meeting others inside

As of 10th July, the Scottish Government have advised that you can meet indoors with up to two other households with physical distancing in place. This includes overnight stays and should not exceed eight people in total. 

If you're meeting others inside, make sure you follow hygiene advice and best practice, like washing your hands when you arrive and cleaning surfaces after you've touched them, this helps to reduce the chances the virus will be spread. 

Extended Households

If you live alone, or you live with children and no other adults, or have a partner but aren't living in the same house, you may form an 'extended household' by combining two households. This means that you can visit and enter someone else's home and stay over if you want. For example, a grandparent can form an extended household with their children/grandchildren and partners that don't live in the same household can visit each other.

If you're shielding and live alone or with children under 18, as of 10th July, you can also form an extended household. 

An extended household can act in the same way a household does, therefore there is no need to practice physical distancing (staying two metres apart)

If anyone from either household displays symptoms of the virus, everyone from both households must self-isolate. There can be no 'overlap' between three households. For example, two people from the same household can't form extended households with two different households.

If someone in the extended household becomes ill with coronavirus, all members of the extended household will need to self-isolate, the person with symptoms should organise a test and if it comes back as positive all members of the extended household should self-isolate for 14 days. 

Face coverings

From 22nd June, wearing face coverings on public transport became mandatory in Scotland. This means you need to wear one if you’re travelling by bus, train, tram, subway, taxi, plane or in an enclosed area on a ferry. It also includes when you are in bus or railway stations and airports.

From 10th July, it is also mandatory to wear face coverings in shops. 

Anything that covers the nose and mouth and is made of a textile, like cloth, that you can breathe through, for example - a scarf, is considered a face covering. 

Some public transport providers are handing these out for free, you can buy ones online or you can make your own – there’s lot’s DIY face mask tutorials out there.

People under five and those with certain medical conditions are exempt, for all the information you need check out the gov.scot website.


You can now take part in non-contact sports outdoors such as tennis and golf if you can also follow the above guidelines. This applies also if you are shielding. When taking part in any activity or exercise you should only do so if you can do so safely, maintain a physical distance of two metres or more and not put yourself or others at risk. You can have a look at the guidance for playing each sport safely on the Sportscotland website.

Meeting outside for exercise with people from more than two households at a time is not allowed, for example having a game of football with friends from three or more different households.

As of 13th July, children and young people under 18 are able to take part in organised contact sport while following safety guidelines. Unfortunately, there is no date as yet for when over 18s can take part in outdoor contact sport or when gyms will be able to re-open. 

Travelling to exercise or to meet friends or family 

From 3rd July, the previous travel restriction where people were asked to stay within 5 miles of their home was removed. If there are local outbreaks in future, travel restrictions may be put in place (for example, this happened previously in some areas of Dumfries and Galloway), make sure you follow any local travel advice or guidance when visiting an area.  

Remember that when you travel you will still need to follow the above restrictions. The Scottish Government is also advising that you avoid crowded places where social distancing could be difficult (like popular spots such as the beach).

Schools, colleges and universities

Schools will return on 11th August, with a phased return until the 18th August where all pupils will be back at school full time. Primary schools will re-open with no physical distancing in place, while secondary schools are likely to encourage this where possible. Adults within your school will have to practice physical distancing around each other and around pupils. Some things that you can expect when you go back are:

  1. Hand washing and/or sanitising for everyone arriving at the school and throughout the day
  2. Fewer large gatherings with lots of other people – such as assemblies
  3. You might have to stay in the same group or class throughout the day 
  4. Less sharing of equipment like books/equipment/cutlery etc
  5. You won't need to wear a face covering – but you can do if you want to.

There will also be more cleaning of the school to help make sure it's safe. As there will be change, when you do go back to school you won't go straight back to learning – there will be time to adjust to what's new and learn about what's changed. For more information check your school's website and social media, as well as speak to your parent or guardian who might receive additional information from the school.

On Wednesday 22nd July, college and university campuses can start to reopen as part of a blended learning model that will see some on campus teaching as well as remote teaching. The exact plan will depend on your college or university, so make sure to check their website. Find out more about the impact of coronavirus on education.

Going on holiday

You can holiday anywhere within Scotland – as long as you you follow the current guidelines in terms of household numbers and physical distancing.

If you travel abroad to certain countries, then you might have to self-isolate when you return to Scotland. This is changing as the outbreak is developing in different countries. You can check the latest locations on the gov.scot website. If you plan to travel to another country, then check before you travel on the restrictions that country has in place.

Test and protect

NHS Scotland is using a system called 'Test and Protect' which aims to stop the spread of the virus in communities.

It will involve testing to confirm positive cases of coronavirus after which specialist tracers will get in touch with those who may have come into close contact with anyone who has tested positive and ask them to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

For the most up to date situation in Scotland visit the Scottish Government website and for the UK, take a look at the UK Government website, both of which are updated daily. 

Who is most at risk of coronavirus?

Like many other flu-like viruses, coronavirus will have more severe symptoms in people who already have weakened immune systems, in older people, and people who have long-term health conditions like cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease. 

What can I do to protect myself and others against coronavirus?

Be hygienic! 

The Scottish Government have created a handy acronym to help us remember what to do, called FACTS. These stand for: 

  • Face coverings in enclosed spaces (as of 10th July, it's mandatory to wear face coverings in shops and on public transport)
  • Avoid crowded places (for example, popular tourist spots like the beach)
  • Clean hands and surfaces regularly
  • Two metre distancing (except where businesses have relaxed this rule and taken specific precautions to reduce risk)
  • Self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms.

Make sure to wash your hands regularly – especially after going to the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, after returning home and before eating food. It's also good practice to make sure you don't come too close in contact with anyone who may be carrying an infectious disease, like a cold or flu. 

It’s important to know how to wash your hands properly. Watch the tutorial below.  

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are: 

  • high temperature or fever 
  • new continuous cough 
  • shortness of breath 
  • loss of or change in smell or taste

These symptoms don't always mean you have coronavirus though. The symptoms are similar to many other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu. 

What do I do if I have coronavirus symptoms? 

You should stay at home for ten days if you have either: 

  • a high temperature 
  • a new, continuous cough 
  • loss of/change in smell or taste

Staying at home and separating yourself from other people, is also known as self-isolating. This will help to protect others in your community while you are infectious. 

If you have any symptoms of coronavirus, you should follow the 'Test and Protect' approach and book a test online through the NHS Inform website or call 0800 028 2816you should get tested in the first 3 days of coronavirus symptoms appearing (although testing is effective up until up to five days after you noticed the symptoms)Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. 

Remember, in an absolute emergency - such as difficulty to breathe, call 999 to request an ambulance.

You should receive the results of your test by text to the mobile phone of the person who booked the test, these should be received within 48 hours (you should self-isolate until you receive your results). 

If you're tested for coronavirus and it comes back positive, you will be asked and supported to self-isolate for ten days. As part of this process, you will also be asked for the details of people who you have come into close contact with. Contact tracers will then get in touch with anyone who may have come into close contact with you and will ask them to self-isolate for fourteen days. 

What do I do if I live with someone with coronavirus symptoms? 

If you live with someone who has coronavirus (a new cough, a fever or loss of/change in smell or taste) you should stay at home for 14 days (the 14 days starts from the day the person became ill). Staying at home and separating yourself from other people, is also known as self-isolating.

This helps to reduce the chances of you spreading coronavirus to others. 

After 14 days, you and anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine.

But, if you or anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for ten days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means you're at home for longer than 14 days. 

More information

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

The helpline is open:

  • Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 10.00pm
  • Saturday and Sunday, 8.00am to 6.00pm

The NHS also has a useful website that has the answers to a lot of common questions.

A national helpline was also set up to support vulnerable and high-risk people during the coronavirus outbreak in Scotland.

This includes people who do not have family or existing community support and cannot get online and who are over 70, disabled, require the support of mental health services, are pregnant or receive a flu jab for health reasons. 

Call: 0800 111 4000

Open: Weekdays 9am-5pm (this may be extended in the future).

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