European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,
an agency of the European Union (ECDC)
© ECDC [2005-2022], CC BY4.0


Q & A on COVID-19

1. What is COVID-19?
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the name given to the 2019 novel coronavirus. COVID-19 is the name given to the disease associated with the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

2. Is this virus comparable to SARS or to the seasonal flu?
The novel coronavirus detected in China is genetically closely related to the SARS-CoV-1 virus. SARS emerged at the end of 2002 in China, and it caused more than 8 000 cases in 33 countries over a period of eight months. Around one in ten of the people who developed SARS died.

The current COVID-19 outbreak caused around 7 000 reported cases in China during the first month after initial reports (January 2020), with a further 80 000 cases reported globally during the second month (February 2020). Of these first 87 000 cases, about 3 000 died. Cases are now being detected in Europe and across the globe.

While the viruses that cause both COVID-19 and seasonal influenza are transmitted from person-to-person and may cause similar symptoms, the two viruses are very different. ECDC estimates that between 15 000 and 75 000 people die prematurely due to causes associated with seasonal influenza each year in the EU, the UK, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This is approximately 1 in every 1 000 people who are infected. By comparison, the current estimated mortality rate for COVID-19 is 20-30 per 1 000 people.
This is significantly less than the 2003 SARS outbreak. However, it is much higher than the mortality rate for seasonal influenza.

The concern about COVID-19 is that there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the disease. As it is a new virus, nobody has prior immunity which in theory means that the entire human population is potentially susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

3. What is the mode of transmission? How (easily) does it spread?
While animals are the original source of the virus, it is now spreading from person to person. It is currently estimated that, on average, one infected person will infect between two and three more. The virus seems to be transmitted mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. The virus can also survive for several hours on surfaces such as tables and door handles.

The incubation period for COVID-19 is currently estimated at between two and 14 days. At this stage, we know that the virus can be transmitted when people who are infected show flu-like symptoms. It is currently believed that people who are infected but who do not show symptoms cannot transmit the virus.



1. Symptoms of COVID-19 infection

The virus can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and tiredness.

More serious cases develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock that can lead to death.

2. Are some people more at risk than others?

Generally elderly people and those with underlying health conditions (e.g. hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer) are considered to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms.

3. Are children also at risk of infection?

Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild.

4. When should I be tested for COVID-19?

Current advice for testing depends on the stage of the outbreak in the country or area where you live. If you live in a country or area where there has been no or very limited transmission, ECDC advice is that you should be tested if you have:

Acute respiratory tract infection (sudden onset of at least one of the following: cough, fever, shortness of breath) AND with no other cause that fully explains your illness AND with a history of travel or residence in a country/area reporting local or community transmission* during the 14 days prior to symptom onset; OR

Any acute respiratory illness AND having been in close contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 case in the last 14 days prior to onset of symptoms; OR

Severe acute respiratory infection (fever and at least one sign/symptom of respiratory disease (e.g., cough, fever, shortness breath)) AND requiring hospitalisation AND doctors can find no other cause that fully explains your illness.

5. Where can I get tested?

If your healthcare provider believes there is a need for a laboratory test for the virus that causes COVID-19, he/she will inform you of the procedure to follow and advise where and how the test can be performed.



1. How can I avoid getting infected?

The virus enters your body via your eyes, nose and/or mouth, so it is important to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or cleaning hands with alcohol-based solutions, gels or tissues is recommended in all settings.


2. What should I do if I have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19?

Notify public health authorities in your area who will provide guidance on further steps to take. If you develop any symptoms, you should immediately call your healthcare provider for advice, mentioning that you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19.

3. Are face masks effective in protecting against COVID-19?

If you are infected, the use of surgical face masks may reduce the risk of your infecting other people, but there is no evidence that face masks will effectively prevent you from being infected with the virus. In fact, it is possible that the use of face masks may even increase the risk of infection due to a false sense of security and increased contact between hands, mouth and eyes.

4.Am I protected against COVID-19 if I had the influenza vaccine this year?

You are not.



1. How prepared is Europe for COVID-19 and what is the EU doing?

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is in continuous contact with the European Commission and the World Health Organization regarding the assessment of this outbreak. To inform the European Commission and the public health authorities in Member States of the ongoing situation, ECDC publishes daily summaries and continuously assesses the risk for EU citizens. ECDC and WHO have developed technical guidance to support the EU Member States in their response. The European Commission is ensuring the coordination of risk management activities at EU level.

Daily risk assessment on COVID-19, 9 March 2020
2. How many people have been infected in the EU/EEA? 

From the beginning of the outbreak up until March 6, 2020, more than 5 500 cases and 159 deaths from 27 countries had been reported in the EU/EEA and the UK. See the ECDC daily situation update for the latest available information. Given the extensive movement of people and the fact that the virus is transmitted from person to person, further cases are expected in Europe.

Situation update for the EU/EEA and the UK, as of 10 March 2020 08:00
3. How long will this outbreak last?

It is not possible to predict how long the outbreak will last and how the epidemic will unfold. For instance, it is not known whether transmission within the EU/EEA will naturally decrease during the northern hemisphere summer, as is observed for seasonal influenza.

4. Should schools and day centres be closed?

The evidence we have to date indicates that COVID-19 does not affect children nearly as much as it affects adults. However, the extent to which children play a role in the transmission of the virus is still unknown. Due to this uncertainty, it is especially important to encourage children to wash their hands carefully to reduce any possible risk of them becoming infected themselves, and then of passing on the virus. If children do become ill, they should be strictly isolated at home.

Depending on local circumstances, local authorities may decide to temporarily close schools and daycare centres to reduce transmission. Wherever this happens, it is important that parents and caregivers are supported, for example by their employers, to stay at home so they can take care of their children.



1. What precautions should I take if I am visiting an area of local or community transmission?

Travelers visiting areas of local or community COVID-19 transmission should adhere to strict hygiene measures, wash hands with soap and water regularly, and/or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Touching the face with unwashed hands should be avoided. Travelers should avoid contact with sick persons, in particular those with respiratory symptoms and fever. It should be emphasised that older people and those with underlying health conditions should take these precautionary measures very seriously.

2. What if I have recently been in an area of local or community transmission?

Travelers returning from areas of local or community transmission should monitor their health for 14 days. People with symptoms should contact their healthcare specialist via telephone first, and indicate their exposure and travel history before seeking medical attention in person. Symptomatic people should avoid contact with others until they have seen a healthcare specialist.

3. What is the risk of infection when traveling by plane?

If it is established that a COVID-19 case has been on an airplane, other passengers who were at risk (as defined by how near they were seated to the infected passenger) will be contacted by public health authorities.  Should you have questions about a flight you have taken, please contact your local health authority for advice. The risk of being infected on an airplane cannot be excluded, but is currently considered to be low for an individual traveler.  The risk of being infected in an airport is similar to that of any other place where many people gather.

4.Why are people not being checked for COVID-19 at the airport when arriving from areas of local or community transmission?

There is evidence that checking people at the airport (entry screening) is not very effective in preventing the spread of the virus, especially when people do not have symptoms.



1. What is the risk of COVID-19 infection from food products imported from affected areas?

There has been no report of transmission of COVID-19 via food and therefore there is no evidence that food items imported into the European Union in accordance with the applicable animal and public health regulations pose a risk for the health of EU citizens in relation to COVID-19.

2. What is the risk of COVID-19 infection from contact with pets and other animals in the EU?

Current research links COVID-19 to certain types of bat as the original source, but does not exclude the involvement of other animals. Several types of coronaviruses can infect animals and can be transmitted to other animals and people. There is no evidence that companion animals (e.g. dogs or cats) pose a risk of infection to humans.


Featured image/Fusion MedicalAnimation, Unsplash