Coronaviruses are a large family of respiratory viruses that can cause illness in people and animals. In rare cases, coronaviruses that circulate among animals can evolve and infect humans. In turn, these infections can easily spread from person-to-person as was the case with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).
An outbreak of the novel (new) coronavirus was first reported in December 2019 when cases of viral pneumonia with unknown origin were confirmed in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Because of its similarity to SARS-CoV, the virus has been named: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This virus causes the disease referred to as COVID-19 - Coronavirus disease 2019. Similar to other coronaviruses SARS-CoV-2 is suspected to have come from animals, potentially bats.
The virus is primarily transmitted from person-to-person by coming into contact with an infected person’s droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes or exhales, droplets are expelled and can land in another person’s nose or mouth and inhaled into the lungs. The virus can be transmitted by an infected person not showing symptoms of illness. This is why it’s important to stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart.
Infected droplets can also land on surfaces or objects. It may be possible for a person to contract the virus when they touch an infected surface and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
There is evidence that people infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to others before symptoms develop (known as pre-symptomatic transmission). It is also possible for people with mild symptoms (such as a mild cough and no other signs of illness) or no signs of illness to transmit the virus.
COVID-19 cases have been reported in many countries around the world. For real-time updates, see: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.
Returning travellers from high risk areas and those living in communities where there is local transmission of COVID-19 are at higher risk. Refer to your local and national health authority for guidance on prevention measures taking place in your community – be sure to comply with local restrictions on travel and social gatherings.
The most common symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Symptoms can also include chills and repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of sense of taste or smell. Symptoms typically appear within 2 days to 14 days after exposure.
Those with a weakened immune system, the elderly, and those with a pre-existing condition (specifically high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, cancer or diabetes) can be more prone to severe illness.
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, blue lips or face, or confusion.
You can protect yourself and others by doing the following:
If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19 or recently returned from travelling, you may be advised by your health authority to self-isolate to see if symptoms of COVID-19 develop and avoid infecting others. Self-isolation involves:
If it is confirmed that you have COVID-19, your healthcare practitioner and health authority will advise you on additional self-isolation measures. People who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are advised to follow the self-isolation measures outlined above and wear a mask to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
To reduce the global spread of COVID-19, many governments and public health authorities continue to advise against non-essential travel and have placed restrictions on international departures and arrivals. You can view current travel restrictions and entry requirements here. Note that these requirements are subject to change at short notice and travellers should check with their airline before departure, as well as their destination's embassy.
Information last reviewed: February 23, 2021.