What is Coronavirus and How Might It Affect Me?

Last Updated: 30/03/2020 at 09:40

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.  

Coronavirus is 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. 

Coronavirus has been in the news a lot recently because there have been cases 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 the UK?

On the evening of 23rd March, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, addressed the nation with a statement including new measures that would be effective immediately. During this time residents in the UK are not to leave the house other than in special circumstances. These circumstances are:

  • Travel to work if absolutely necessary
  • To provide care to someone who needs it as you usually would
  • To attend a medical appointment
  • To go shopping for essentials such as food once a day at the most
  • To exercise locally no more than once a day (go on a walk, run or cycle by yourself or with the people you live with)

Police in Scotland and the UK will be enforcing these new guidelines and members of the public may be fined for breaking these rules.

People have been warned not to meet friends or family members who they do not live with.

All shops selling non-essential goods, such as clothing and electronic stores, have been ordered to close. Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have also been asked to close.

The First Minister announced that all schools in Scotland would be closed from Monday 23rd March - and special plans would be made for the children of essential workers such as NHS staff or supermarket workers. SQA exams due to be held through May and June have also been cancelled.

On 16th March, the First Minister and Prime Minister advised people to reduce social contact with other people. This means people are being encouraged to work from home. From March 20th, the Prime Minister ordered pubs, clubs and restaurants to close, alongside other public spaces such as cinemas, theatres and other social places.

For the most up to date situation in the UK, take a look at the UK Government website which is 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 against coronavirus?

Be hygienic! 

Make sure to wash your hands regularly – especially after going to the toilet, after coughing or sneezing, 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 also 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 
  • cough 
  • shortness of breath 

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 7 days if you have either: 

  • a high temperature 
  • a new, continuous cough 

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. 

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. 

There is an online service to help people understand what to do if they have symptoms which is updated with new information from the Chief Medical Officer. 

Phone 111 if your symptoms:  

  • are severe or you have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • worsen within the 7 days you're at home 
  • haven't improved after 7 days 

You may have to wait a little while longer than usual - the phone lines are experiencing a high amount of calls at the moment. You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you're staying at home. There is stay at home guidance for those who are staying at home.

You should not contact your GP surgery about coronavirus symptoms.

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

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine. If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

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

If you live with someone who has coronavirus, a new cough or a fever, 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 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means you're at home for longer than 14 days. 

Information & support for young carers

If you provide regular support to a vulnerable friend or family member, you will want to do what you can to protect your own health and of the friend or family member you look after during the coronavirus outbreak.  

Like everyone, unpaid carers and people being cared for should familiarise themselves with the public health advice on how to protect themselves from infection. As the situation is changing quickly, the guidance may also change, so carers should therefore check regularly to make sure they are following the latest guidance on the NHS Inform Scotland website. 

Young carers who do not already have an emergency plan in place may also want to talk with family and friends about who could take over their caring role if they become ill or need to self-isolate – particularly while social work services are under additional pressure during the coronavirus outbreak. It will also be important to make sure you have key information about the person you care for easily available - so that anyone taking over care has all the information they need. 

Where carers and family and friends are unable to provide essential care for someone, they should contact their local social work department. Contact details can be found on the Social Work Scotland website 

See NHS 24 for advice on coronavirus symptoms; precautions to take; and what to do if you think you may have become ill with coronavirus - www.nhs24.scot 

More information

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, 8.00am to 6.00pm

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

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