What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 or ‘coronavirus’ is a highly contagious virus with similar symptoms to the common flu. At the time of writing (30/3/20) there are over 700,000 documented cases, 35,000 deaths and around 150,000 recovered patients in the world. For an in-depth explanation of exactly how COVID-19 infects and affects the body, you can read this useful comic by Toby Morris. 


Why can’t we just behave like we do with the normal flu? Why the lockdown?

  • How it’s spread

The WHO has explained how the virus is spread here. It’s believed that COVID-19 particles can live on surfaces for up to three days. That means that if you are a carrier of COVID-19 and you have coughed, sneezed, or failed to wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, you will be spreading those particles for others to make contact with and become infected. 

Dr Hugh Montgomery of UCL explains in this brief video how a typical flu is spread on average to 1.3 people per infected person, while COVID-19 is spread to an average of 3 people per infected person. The difference is bigger than it sounds – once you are ten times removed from a typical flu, you could be responsible for 14 cases in total, but ten times removed from COVID-19 is 59,000 infections.   

It can take 2-10 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to show up, after the point of infection. Many officials believe that we are still able to pass on the virus, even if we show no symptoms yet. So even if you think you are healthy, you could pass the virus on to anyone around you. 


  • Lack of treatment

There is currently no treatment for COVID-19. A number of treatment drugs are being investigated, and many scientists around the world are attempting to develop a vaccine as well. Currently, if you become infected with COVID-19, doctors are only able to treat your symptoms and wait for your body to fight off the infection itself. This is why older people and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to die from the virus. 


  • Purpose of lockdown

So why the lockdown? At the time of writing this, the UK is in the middle of a three week lockdown. Here is a full breakdown of what the lockdown is. Essentially, schools and universities have closed, all workers who are able to work from home must do so, and non-essential shops and businesses have closed. We are all expected to stay in our homes except to: 

  • buy groceries
  • get one form of exercise per day
  • see a medical professional (NOT if we suspect we have COVID-19 symptoms)
  • provide care for a vulnerable person. 

This can be enforced by the police, and you may be given a fine for violating the rules of lockdown. As well as this, we are expected to stay 2 metres away from any other person while outside our homes. The purpose of these rules is to limit the spread of the virus as much as possible. The idea is that everyone will be in their own ‘bubble’. If you only come into contact with the people you live with, then the maximum number of people you can infect if you become infected with COVID-19, is the number of people you live with. The spread should end there. Your home is a ‘bubble’. As soon as you leave it, even just to see a friend in their own home or a family member at a local park, both bubbles have popped. The number of people you could unknowingly infect is higher. 


Who will be most affected by COVID-19?

We can’t be sure. So far it appears that most of the deaths have been elderly people or those with pre-existing health conditions, such as heart problems, asthma, and those who are immunosuppressed. Those aren’t the only people dying. Some otherwise healthy, young people develop very severe symptoms and even die, with no apparent reason why. The severity of COVID-19 varies greatly. 


What can I do?

  1. Stay home. Follow government recommendations on how to behave when you do have to leave home. 
  2. Wash your hands, and maintain good hygiene generally – especially before and after leaving home. Wash with soap and warm water. Hand sanitiser is not 100% effective, soap is preferable.
  3. You do not need to wear gloves and face masks, but if you have them already at home, you may choose to. Be careful to wash fabric masks and dispose of any other type of face mask.
  4. Volunteer – there are many opportunities available to help others through this pandemic. You can sign up to be an NHS volunteer as long as you meet the criteria.
  5. Be a good friend and family member. If you are healthy and able to do so safely, you can collect medication or groceries for vulnerable loved ones, and leave them at their home without making any contact with them. The Government offers advice on how to do this


What if I think I have COVID-19?

Do not visit a GP, hospital, or any other medical professional if you suspect you have COVID-19. NHS has asked people to remain at home and only call 111 if they believe their symptoms are severe or a cause for concern. 

The only way you are able to get tested for COVID-19 is if you have been hospitalised with symptoms. Most people are not currently able to access COVID-19 testing. Check out the BBC guide to coronavirus symptoms and advice on how to manage them. 


What’s going to happen next?

There is still a lot we don’t know.

Information provided here may change or be updated, as we learn more about COVID-19 and how it works. The BBC have written about what information we still don’t have about COVID-19

Currently we cannot be sure whether the lockdown will end after the three week period, or whether it will be extended. We don’t yet know how we will be phased back into normal life, or if there will be an extended period of social distancing after the lockdown. We will update this page as new information is released. 

For information about how UCA has responded to COVID-19, check out ‘UCA updates’. More student questions about renting, assessments, mental health and more, have been answered on ‘Your Questions Answered’

If you have any further questions or concerns that have not been answered anywhere on this site, please submit them to the Feedback form