COVID-19 (coronavirus)

A cluster of cases of pneumonia that occurred in Wuhan, Hubei Province China during December 2019, were confirmed in early January 2020 as caused by a novel coronavirus (now called SARS-CoV-2). Some cases, but not all, were associated with a seafood and live animal market in the city. Human-to-human transmission has occurred; the infection has been reported in some health care workers. National and international spread of this virus has resulted in cases reported throughout China (most in the province of Hubei) and a number of other countries. In February 2020, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization. Previously other names such as 2019-nCoV were used.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold, and others causing more severe disease, such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The typical symptoms of COVID-19 are fever and a cough that may progress to pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Symptoms range from mild to life threatening (most cases report a mild illness). Those who are elderly or have pre-existing health issues may be at increased risk of severe infection.


The routes of transmission of this novel coronavirus are currently unknown; however, other coronaviruses are mainly transmitted by large respiratory droplets and direct or indirect contact with infected secretions. In addition to respiratory secretions, other coronaviruses have been detected in blood, faeces and urine.

To reduce the risk of coronavirus infection all travellers should:

  • Maintain good hand and personal hygiene. Wash hands regularly with soap and water or a disinfectant before handling or consuming food.
  • Avoid visiting live bird and animal markets, backyard or commercial poultry farms and do not touch wild or domestic birds (alive or dead).
  • Avoid any contact with animals, birds or surfaces that may be contaminated with animal or bird dropping.
  • Avoid eating or handling undercooked or raw meat including poultry, egg or duck dishes.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms, or who appears unwell.
  • Avoid sharing personal items.

To reduce the risk of passing coronavirus to others, anyone with respiratory symptoms should:

  • Cover the nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a tissue or flexed elbow.
  • Use paper tissues only once and dispose of them carefully, then clean hands with soap and water or alcohol based disinfectant gel.
  • Should a mask be worn, all the recommended precautions in order to minimise the risk of transmission should still be used.

There is currently no preventive vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19. Medical care aims to relieve and treat the symptoms. Guidance on infection prevention and control for health care providers can be found on Public Health England’s (PHE) website.

Travellers currently in countries that are reporting cases of COVID-19 should follow local public health advice. UK travellers should also ensure they are up to date with the latest advice from FCO and PHE.

Advice for travellers who have travelled to specific countries and areas affected by COVID-19 is available in our news item.