What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

COVID-19 or coronavirus disease 2019 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. This is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been seen in humans until now. It was first linked to Wuhan’s South China Seafood City market in December 2019.

The virus has spread worldwide and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020.


The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person, but there are some symptoms that are more common than others.

Up to half of all people who get COVID-19 will have mild symptoms or not show any symptoms at all.

Mild symptoms may include
  • Feeling very tired
  • A fever (temperature over 38C)
  • Headaches
  • A sore or scratchy throat
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
Moderate symptoms may include
  • A fever (temperature over 38C)
  • Aching muscles
  • An ongoing cough
  • Feeling breathless
  • Headaches
  • Feeling very tired
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Diarrhoea
Severe symptoms

The most severe complication of a COVID-19 infection is pneumonia. This means that the infection is in the lungs. Feeling very breathless might be the worst symptom.

In COVID-19, unlike some other lung infections, the symptoms are often at their worst about 1 week after the symptoms start and can take 2-3 weeks to improve in severe cases.

You are also likely to experience:

  • A high fever
  • A cough
  • The other symptoms described for moderate infections.

You may also experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Feeling confused

How to limit your risks of catching COVID-19

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Social distancing

Social distancing

The rules may vary between countries but staying at least 1-2 metres away from people that you do not live with can prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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Hand washing

Hand washing

Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to stop the spread of the virus. Soap ‘kills’ the virus by breaking down its structure, meaning it can no longer cause harm. 


Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap to kill the virus.

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Face coverings

Face coverings

Face coverings can help to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They do this by catching the droplets and aerosols from our coughs, sneezes and from speaking that may carry the virus.

Our expert information

We have worked closely with lung health experts to bring to the information you have asked us for about COVID-19

COVID-19 patient advisory group

Would you like to contribute to new research on COVID-19? We are looking for people from across Europe to join our Patient Advisory Group to work with several research projects in this area. This will make sure that patients and the public are at the centre of research.

Learn more about our patient advisory groups

Further information

If you have any questions or concerns about COVID-19, please refer to our Q&A. If you do not find the answer to your question, please contact us using the button below. We are receiving a large number of questions about COVID-19, so we are unable to respond directly to these emails. We will combine the questions that we receive, and these will be updated on the Q&A section of the website regularly.