What is the strain of coronavirus known as Covid-19 and what are the symptoms?

Covid-19 is a strain of coronavirus that causes respiratory issues and can be fatal.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses causing illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

The virus originated in Wuhan, China but has gone on to infect more than four million people across the world.

The World Heath Organisation (WHO) has classed the outbreak as a pandemic.

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant in the Grand Market of Dakar, Senegal during the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: AP

A pandemic - according the the WHO - is the worldwide spread of a new disease, as opposed to an epidemic, which is a disease contained within one country.

"Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly," WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death."

  • What are the symptoms of Covid-19?

According to the NHS, the symptoms of coronavirus are a new and continuous cough, a high temperature and shortness of breath.

Since these symptoms are those for a variety of illnesses, such as commons colds and flu, if you have them you do not necessarily have Covid-19.

Public Health England (PHE) said the virus may progress to more severe illnesses, such as pneumonia.

Older patients and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to progress to severe disease.

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  • Are there any other symptoms?

Weeks after experts suggested a loss or change in your sense smell or taste could indicate infection, the NHS added these to its list of symptoms.

Anyone suffering loss of taste or smell, or a noticeable change, should now self-isolate for seven days to reduce the risk of spreading the infection, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said on May 18.

Those living with someone showing these symptoms should also self-isolate, but for 14 days rather than seven - even if they are not showing any symptom of any kind.

This move came after a major study, published by Professor Tim Spector at King’s College London, found that people with a positive test result were three times more likely to report loss of smell and taste as a symptom than those who went on to test negative.

Prof Van-Tam told reporters it would mean 93% of cases where people have symptoms are now picked up, a rise from 91% previously.

Loss of smell and taste could be a strong indicator of Covid-19, researchers say. Credit: PA
  • What should you do if you think you may have Covid-19?

Many of those infected with coronavirus will develop only mild to moderate symptoms.

Shelley Folkes, a locum nurse, told ITV News "plenty of rest, lots and lots of fluid" are needed as well as "simple paracetamol to combat a fever."

Nichola Mazur, an NHS nurse who works on the frontline, said most who develop symptoms will not need to go to hospital.

"No, if you do have symptoms you don't go into hospital - if you do have the virus this can then spread to other people," said Ms Mazur.

South Africa is just one of the countries across the globe on lockdown in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus. Credit: AP

"For most people, you will recover at home without the need for any medical intervention."

Ms Folkes added: "If your symptoms become unmanageable then there is the online 111 assessment tool that will guide you through an assessment to tell you which pathway you need to take at the moment.

"Obviously, if your symptoms become very severe like extreme shortness of breath or reduced conscious level then you will need to call 999 and the ambulance service will assess you over the phone."

Countries worldwide are looking to secure ventilators for Covid-19 patients. Credit: AP
  • Treatment for coronavirus

There is currently no vaccine for Covid-19, though a number of potential vaccines are in development.

The virus attacks and kills two specific types of cells in our lungs, known as the goblet and ciliated cells.

The cells are vital to keeping the lungs healthy, losing them can lead to potentially lethal pneumonia. In some cases, the virus causes the immune system to go into overdrive, attacking the lungs themselves.

The virus can also attack the kidneys - and, in some cases, the blood vessels and circulation.

Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses.

Treatment instead aims to relieve the symptoms while your body fights the illness.

You'll need to stay in isolation away from other people until you've recovered.

Spanish Royal guard soldiers disinfect a hospital to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Madrid. Credit: AP
  • How is Covid-19 spread?

Coronavirus can spread from person-to-person in close proximity, similar to other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu.

Droplets of bodily fluids - such as saliva or mucus - from an infected person are dispersed in the air or on surfaces by coughing or sneezing.

These droplets can come into direct contact with other people or can infect those who pick them up by touching infected surfaces and then their face.

According to scientists, coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes.

Lockdown measures like school closures have been introduced around the world. Credit: PA

It is not yet known how long the virus can survive outside a host but, in other viruses, it ranges from a few hours to months.

Transmission is of particular concern on transport and in public places, where droplets containing the coronavirus could pass between people or via surfaces.

The incubation period of the coronavirus - the length of time before symptoms appear - is between one and 14 days.

It is thought Covid-19 can be transmitted before symptoms appear, making it easy to spread.

Covid-19 can be spread through coughs and sneezes. Credit: PA
  • Who is particularly vulnerable?

Around 1.5 million people across England have been warned to stay at home for at least 12 weeks to avoid being hospitalised by the virus.

A raft of new measures on shielding and protecting to help the nation's most vulnerable have been announced by the government.

People who fall into the extremely vulnerable group include: organ transplant recipients, people with specific cancers, severe respiratory conditions, rare diseases and those on immunosuppression therapies.

Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease are also included on the list.

For a full breakdown, click here.

Medical staff are wearing personal protective equipment on the frontlines of the fight against the virus. Credit: PA
  • What precautions should we take?

You can do the following to help stop the spread of any virus, not just coronavirus:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze and immediately bin used tissues

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available

  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell

  • Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

  • Use a face covering in enclosed spaces or where social distancing is not possible

Patients in Wuhan - the epicentre of the virus - are treated for coronavirus. Credit: AP
  • What do I need to do?

Social distancing. This entails the following steps:

  • Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of Covid-19 (remember, these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough)

  • Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible

  • Work from home, where possible

  • Remain at home as much as possible

  • Do not meet up with friends and family - keep in touch using remote technology such as the phone, internet, and social media

  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

  • Where did coronavirus come from?

On December 31 last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

On January 12, Covid-19 was identified in samples obtained from cases.

Initial analysis suggested that this was the cause of the outbreak and it is thought to have originated from an illegal wildlife market, possibly from a pangolin (a scaly anteater which is prized in China for its use in traditional medicine).