COVID-19 - Novel Coronavirus Facts frequently asked questions

Topics: Worldwide, Emergencies and Disasters Worldwide
May 14, 2020

Canadian Red Cross volunteers wearing protective equipment.

Misinformation can be incredibly dangerous during any epidemic or emergency, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no different. If you would like to seek out more information on the novel coronavirus, the Canadian Red Cross recommends that you start with trusted government and United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada to find updated facts and statistics surrounding the virus.

What is COVID-19 – Novel coronavirus?

While the COVID-19 virus that was first found in late 2019 is commonly referred to as “the coronavirus,” a coronavirus is actually a family of viral illnesses that have been linked to everything from the common cold to the SARS pandemic of 2002-2003. The 2019 outbreak is a novel coronavirus, which means it is a new strain of virus that had not previously been seen in humans.

Where did this coronavirus come from?

The origins and causes of the COVID-19 coronavirus have yet to be determined. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Most of the world’s countries and territories have now reported at least one confirmed case of COVID-19, and the risk of continued spread between and within countries is very high.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Coronavirus symptoms are not unlike what you would experience with other respiratory illnesses such as influenza or the common cold. While the severity of coronavirus symptoms can range, signs of infection include cough, fever and difficulty breathing. Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19.

Complications from the virus can lead to more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia. People with pre-existing medical conditions, small children, and the elderly are more vulnerable than others to the illness.

For the latest information, visit Public Health Agency of Canada
 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Symptoms and treatment.

How does the coronavirus spread?

Much like other similar viruses, the COVID-19 coronavirus is most commonly spread from an infected person through respiratory droplets generated when coughing or sneezing. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person such as tables, doorknobs and handrails. People can become infected by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Recent evidence also indicates that the virus can be transmitted to others from someone who is infected but not showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic).

What can I do to protect myself from the coronavirus?

The Canadian Red Cross encourages everyone to follow good hygiene practices and physical distancing as recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, the World Health Organization and your provincial or territorial Ministry of Health.

You are your own best defense and can take simple precautions to keep yourself and others safe.

  • Frequent and thorough handwashing is the top safety measure
  • Avoid contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness, and cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.
  • Keep a physical distance – at least two arms-length (approximately two metres, or six feet) – between each other. Physical distancing, which means making changes in your everyday routines in order to minimize close contact with others, is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak.
  • If you are showing symptoms or feeling unwell, stay home and seek medical attention.

Do I need a mask to protect myself against COVID-19?

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends wearing a non-medical mask or face covering while out in public for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently adhere to physical distancing from others, particularly in crowded public settings such as stores and on public transportation.

 Visit to learn more about the use of masks
Masks alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19 so it is important that you continue adhering to other public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical distancing as much as possible.
If you are showing symptoms or feeling unwell, we encourage you to stay home and seek medical attention.

Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?

People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19.

Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

People of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.

To learn more, visit our tips for those at high risk of complications.

Is there a vaccine or antiviral treatment?

There is currently no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for the virus that causes COVID-19. Treating the symptoms of COVID-19 can help people to recover.

Contact a doctor or follow the lead of local health authorities if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe. This is the best way to look after yourself and stop the infection spreading to your family and others.

Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus?

No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria.

COVID-19 is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for COVID-19 you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.
Sources: Public Health Agency of Canada and World Health Organization

Additional resources:

Official sources for information