Coronavirus – your common questions answered

Luke James
Group Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Director of Healthcare Transformation
20 April 2020
Next review due April 2023

This article was written in line with the best available evidence and guidelines at the time of publishing. Keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines on coronavirus at

As living rooms become classrooms, kitchens become offices and back gardens become playgrounds, it seems that so much of our daily lives has changed in just a matter of weeks. But as we adapt to new routines and rituals to keep people safe, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the constant stream of new information, advice and guidelines we need to follow. Here I’ll answer some of your most common questions about coronavirus.

What are the most common symptoms of coronavirus?

The two most common symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • A high temperature. This means you feel hot to the touch on your chest or back.
  • A new, continuous cough. This means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).

It’s important to remember that most people will only get mild symptoms of coronavirus and recover from the disease, but some people may become seriously ill.

How long should I stay at home for, if I have symptoms of coronavirus?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you should stay at home for seven days, from the day your symptoms first started.

If someone you live with has symptoms of coronavirus, you should stay at home for 14 days, from the day their symptoms first started. This is to see if you develop symptoms and become unwell. If you do develop symptoms, you must stay at home for seven days from the day your symptoms first started. This is regardless of what day you’re on in the 14 day period.

You can find full details on when it’s safe to stop self-isolating on the website.

But if you’re struggling to cope with your symptoms, you feel worse or you don’t feel better after seven days, visit NHS 111 online or call NHS 111 for help. Call 999 if it’s an emergency.

Who is a vulnerable or high-risk person?

Some people are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus than others. These are known as either vulnerable or extremely vulnerable.

A vulnerable person is at an increased risk of severe illness if they get coronavirus. This includes if you:

  • are aged 70 or older
  • are pregnant
  • already have an underlying health condition

An extremely vulnerable person is someone who has a very high risk of severe illness if they get coronavirus. For example, if you:

  • have HIV or AIDS
  • are undergoing cancer treatment such as chemotherapy
  • have had a solid organ transplant

You can see the full list of vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people and find out about other underlying health conditions on the website.

How can I help slow the spread of coronavirus?

Coronavirus is spread from person to person. If someone who is infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or exhales (breathes out) near you, you might then breathe in droplets that contain the virus. Or these droplets might land on objects and surfaces. If you touch these surfaces and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you could become infected.

Therefore the most important things you can do to help slow the spread of coronavirus are to stay home, wash your hands with soap and water regularly and follow social distancing measures.

Other things you can do prevent the spread of the virus include the following.

  • Regularly wash surfaces.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve if you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Try not to touch your face with your hands, especially if they’re not clean.
  • Self-isolate if you or someone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus.

How long should I wash my hands for?

Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. You should wash your hands often every day for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with a minimum of 60 per cent alcohol instead.

Remember to wash your hands:

  • before and after you prepare food
  • before you eat
  • before and after looking after someone who’s unwell
  • after going to the bathroom
  • after changing a nappy
  • after using the toilet
  • after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • before and after treating a cut or wound
  • after handling or touching animals, including pets
  • after handling the rubbish

If you can’t work from home and your job is essential, it’s important to wash your hands when you get into work and after travelling on public transport. You will also need to wash your hands when you arrive home and before eating or handling any food.

Make sure you thoroughly wash:

  • your palms – including your lower palm
  • the back of your hands
  • between your fingers
  • your fingertips
  • your thumbs
  • your wrists
  • your fingernails and nail beds

What is an essential activity that I can go outside for?

Unless you’re a key worker, or you can’t work from home, you should only leave your house for essential activities. These include:
  • shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine
  • any medical need – this includes providing care, helping a vulnerable person, donating blood or if you’re in harms way
  • to exercise for an hour a day – either alone or with members of your household once a day
  • travelling for work – but only if you can’t work from home

Only leave your house when necessary, as infrequently as possible – don’t spend any longer outside than you need to. And remember to keep two metres apart from anyone who’s not a member of your household

Can I meet my friend outside for a walk?

No. You should only see friends if they live in the same household as you. You may go outside for exercise – including walking – once a day, but either alone or with members of your household.

It’s important for everyone to stay away from each other to stop the virus from spreading. Stay connected with your loved ones using phone and video calls instead.

Can I take my children to the playground?

No. You may go outside for exercise with your children once a day, for example to the park, but communal playgrounds, outdoor gyms and sports courts have been closed for your safety. It’s also important not to gather in groups in parks and other public spaces and to keep two metres apart from anyone not in your household.

Can I visit my elderly relative?

You should not see elderly relatives unless they’re a member of your household. But if your elderly relative is vulnerable, you may leave your house to provide support to them. But you should still stay two metres apart, for example by dropping food shopping or medicines at their door.

You should only provide support to a vulnerable person if you:

  • and all other members of your household are healthy with no symptoms of coronavirus
  • yourself are not considered a vulnerable person

What distance should I keep from others if I go outside for essential activities?

In the UK, it’s important to stay at least two metres (6ft) away from anyone who’s not a member of your household if you do go outside for essential activities.

Social distancing has been introduced in many countries as a way to slow the spread of coronavirus between people. It also means avoiding fact-to-face contact, social gatherings, public transport, any non-essential activities and working from home wherever possible.

How can I take care of my health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic?

While it can be difficult to stay at home for many reasons, it’s important that we all do our part to protect one another and stop the spread of coronavirus.

Remember to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing during this time.

  • Use video calls and social media to stay connected with your loved ones.
  • Exercise regularly to help look after your physical and mental health.
  • Eat a healthy diet to help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your body healthy, your energy levels up and take care of your mental health.

Keep busy doing the things you enjoy, such as:

  • reading a book
  • watching a movie
  • online learning
  • getting organised around the house
  • completing a jigsaw puzzle
  • arts and crafts
  • gardening
  • cooking
  • an online yoga class
  • listening to the radio, an audiobook or podcast

Luke James
Dr Luke James
Group Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Director of Healthcare Transformation

    • Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can’t do. Public Health England., published 29 March 2020
    • Stay at home: guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. Public Health England., updated 24 March 2020
    • Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK. Public Health England., updated 30 March 2020
    • Symptoms and what to do: Coronavirus (COVID-19). NHS., last reviewed 2 April 2020
    • The power of hand-washing to prevent coronavirus. Medscape., published 6 March 2020
    • Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). World Health Organization., published 9 March 2020
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do. Public Health England., accessed 6 April 2020

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