The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of confusion and uncertainty. Here are the answers to commonly asked questions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic of global concern. It's the first pandemic sparked by a coronavirus, which means we are currently in uncharted territory. If you're unsure about any aspect of the coronavirus, please read our FAQs section below.
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What's in this guide?
- What is COVID-19 coronavirus?
- How dangerous is coronavirus (COVID-19)?
- How many people have died or been infected?
- Who is most at risk?
- At what age do I become more vulnerable?
- How is COVID-19 spread?
- What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
- How long does infection last?
- What can I do to stay protected?
- What about work and travel?
- Where can I get more information?
What is COVID-19 coronavirus?
COVID-19 coronavirus is the name given to the current outbreak of coronavirus first reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019. A "coronavirus" is a type of virus that causes diseases in mammals and birds.
COVID-19 is genetically similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which had an outbreak in 2002-2003 that led to 774 deaths in 17 countries. While less deadly than SARS, the WHO has warned that COVID-19 is more infectious.
The disease is believed to have originated in bats, before contaminating food sold in live-animal street markets in China. In response to the virus, China has placed a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food.
How dangerous is coronavirus (COVID-19)?
According to the WHO, most people infected with COVID-19 will only experience mild, flu-like symptoms. Some people may display no symptoms at all.
The global case fatality rate currently stands at 3.4% (which does not take into account unreported cases). Statistically, this means that you have a better than 96% chance of survival after contracting coronavirus. As the WHO noted last month, COVID-19 is a new and concerning disease, but outbreaks can be managed with the right response and most infected people will recover.
With that said, the virus is highly transmissible, and there are certain groups of people who are significantly more vulnerable than others (see below) – which is why it's so important to minimise the spread of the virus.
How many people have died or been infected?
You can keep track of the number of infections and fatalities globally via the below Finder graph, which we are updating daily.
Current confirmed cases
(+298,380 in last 24 hours)
(+5,207 in last 24 hours)
For more detailed statistics - including a breakdown of infections in each country and Australian state - head to our COVID-19 stats page.
Who is most at risk?
Older people and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions are at higher risk of developing serious illness after contracting COVID-19. The latter includes people with high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer and diabetes.
In addition, the Australian Department of Health has informed Finder that the following groups are potentially more at risk during the pandemic:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as they have higher rates of chronic illness
- People with diagnosed chronic medical conditions
- Very young children and babies
- People in group residential settings
- People in detention facilities
If you fall into one of the above categories, you will need to be extra vigilant in the weeks to come.
At what age do I become more vulnerable?
We asked the Australian Department of Health this question, which replied with the following:
"There is not a specific age that has been provided in relation to risk levels. People of all ages are encouraged to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example, by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene."
Despite this mixed messaging, it's clear that the elderly are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than the general population. The WHO has warned that people who are over the age of 60 are at greater risk of developing severe or critical illness if infected with the virus.
How is COVID-19 spread?
Coronavirus is chiefly spread by person-to-person contact. This can occur when an infected person coughs or exhales, or via direct contact such as shaking hands. The virus is transferred in small droplets from the nose or mouth.
The WHO warns that high-touch objects and surfaces can also be infectious. These include tables, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets and sinks. In these instances, transmission occurs when a person touches the infected object, then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Worryingly, preliminary studies suggest that COVID-19 may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.
In some good news, the latest data suggests COVID-19 is unlikely to be transmitted through the air over long distances. (Airborne respiratory droplets typically land on objects and surfaces around the person, rather than remaining in the air.)
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
As mentioned above, symptoms of COVID-19 are non-specific. They can range from no symptoms to severe pneumonia and death. A WHO-China Joint Mission study released on 20 February 2020 found the following:
Based on 55,924 laboratory confirmed cases, typical signs and symptoms include: fever (87.9%), dry cough (67.7%), fatigue (38.1%), sputum production (33.4%), shortness of breath (18.6%), sore throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), myalgia or arthralgia (14.8%), chills (11.4%), nausea or vomiting (5.0%), nasal congestion (4.8%), diarrhea (3.7%), hemoptysis (0.9%) and conjunctival congestion (0.8%).
Based on the above statistics, the main symptoms you should be watching out for are fever, dry cough, fatigue, sputum production (thick mucus) and shortness of breath. If you exhibit these symptoms, check into a clinic to get yourself tested (if you meet testing criteria).
You can find out more about the WHO-China Joint Mission study into coronavirus symptoms here.
How long does infection last?
The incubation period for COVID-19 is 1-14 days. This means that it can take up to two weeks for an infected person to exhibit symptoms after catching the virus. It then takes an additional two or three weeks for the infected person to recover.
What can I do to stay protected?
Good hygiene is the most important preventative measure against COVID-19. This means frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing and avoiding unnecessary touching of your face.
According to the WHO, you should also maintain at least a one-metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. This is next to impossible on crowded trains and buses, which is why it's important that everyone follows the aforementioned coughing rule.
Naturally, you should also stay home if you feel unwell and get yourself tested for the virus if you meet testing criteria. If you currently have no sick leave, the Australian government has introduced temporary welfare payments for casual employees and independent contractors. A number of Australian businesses have also committed to paying casual workers who self-quarantine due to infection.
If you are fit and healthy, try to remember that this isn't just about avoiding a mild illness – avoiding infection could help save lives in high-risk populations such as the elderly. Below is the World Health Organization's guide on effective hand washing to protect against infection.
If we all work together by practising good hygiene, following advice from health officials and self-isolating as directed, we can help minimise the spread of the infection.
What about work and travel?
Currently, Australia is not experiencing a nationwide lockdown like in harder-hit countries such as Italy. However, there are many restrictions in place, especially around work, travel and socialising. These are not suggestions or recommendations - it's the law.
During a press conference on 22 March, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined the new rules (emphasis ours).
"Non-essential travel should be avoided and particularly when we're talking about interstate travel and longer distances, the sort of travel that would not be normally part of your normal life. Going to the shops is something you have to do, get into work, other important tasks you have on a daily basis you have to do but I think Australians can exercise their common sense about things they know are not essential."
To ensure the new rules are adhered to, clubs, pubs, sporting venues, churches, cinemas, gyms and casinos have been ordered to shut. Restaurants, cafes and other food outlets will also close, but will be allowed to keep serving takeaway.
In a raft of new safety measures announced on 24 March, food courts, auction houses, beauty salons and tattoo parlors have also been forced to close their doors.
If you have lost your job or are working reduced hours due to coronavirus, these Finder guides can help.
Under the most recently announced social distancing rules, no public gatherings for more than two people are allowed. (Previously the limit was ten.) There are exceptions for family households of more than two people, however. This means you don't need to leave family members at home while travelling for essential shopping items or walking for exercise. With that said, you should still limit outside activity to the bare essentials.
Healthcare facilities, pharmacies, supermarkets, schools, workplaces and public transport are currently exempt from the aforementioned restrictions. However, some states are urging parents to keep their kids at home where possible. School holidays have also been brought forward in Victoria to 24 March 2020.
Other Australian businesses are still allowed to operate, but they must provide a minimum of four square metres (2 metres by 2 metres) per person in an enclosed workplace.
"So for example, if you've got a meeting room or something like that, that is 100 square metres, then you can have 25 people in that room," Morrison explained. "In addition to that, you should continue to practise wherever possible the 1 metre or 1.5 metres of healthy distance between each of us, to ensure that we are limiting the contact and limiting the potential for the spread of the virus."
On 24 March, the government used biosecurity powers to enact an almost total ban on overseas travel. Travel will only be granted in very exceptional circumstances, such as aid work, compassionate travel or essential travel for employment.
You can find out more about travel restrictions and exemptions by reading Finder's dedicated guides.
Where can I get more information?
There is a lot of misinformation floating around about coronavirus and its impact on the world. The following links will keep you up to date using sources you can trust:
- Finder coronavirus information hub: Our complete guide to navigating coronavirus - finance, shopping, health and working from home.
- Australian Department of Health COVID-19 information page: Find coronavirus information specific to Australia, including its current status, risk assessment and up-to-date travel information.
- Coronavirus Australia app: Stay informed with the official government "Coronavirus Australia" app. Available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
- Official WhatsApp channel: The official WhatsApp channel for Australians. Requires the WhatsApp Messenger app (free), available on iOS and Android.
- Australian COVID-19 National Health Plan: Find the funding measures that the Australian Government is taking to combat coronavirus.
- Australian Department of Health COVID-19 fact sheets: Find resources for the general public, health professionals and industry about coronavirus in Australia.
- NSW Health: COVID-19 advice specific to New South Wales.
- Department of Health and Human Services Victoria: COVID-19 advice specific to Victoria.
- Queensland Health: COVID-19 advice specific to Queensland.
- WA Health: COVID-19 advice specific to Western Australia.
- SA Health: COVID-19 advice specific to South Australia.
- ACT Health: COVID-19 advice specific to the Australian Capital Territory.
- Department of Health Northern Territory: COVID-19 advice specific to the Northern Territory.
- Coronavirus Health Information Line (Australia): 1800 020 080
- World Health Organization (WHO) advice page: Find basic protective measures against coronavirus.
- World Health Organization (WHO) FAQs: Find frequently asked questions about COVID-19, answered by the WHO's health experts.
- World Health Organization (WHO) travel advice: Find the WHO's current advice on international travel.
- World Health Organization (WHO) situation reports: Find situation reports on COVID-19, updated daily.
- World Health Organization (WHO) myth busters: Find common misconceptions about COVID-19, dispelled by health experts.
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