What is the Coronavirus? - Facts

Topics: Worldwide, Emergencies and Disasters Worldwide
February 15, 2020

Canadian Red Cross volunteers wearing protective equipment.

Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The COVID-19 coronavirus (previously known as 2019-nCOV and occasionally referred to as the Novel Coronavirus) was first identified in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. The virus has since spread to countries around the world, including Canada. For up to date information on affected countries and confirmed cases, we recommend checking the World Health Organization’s daily situation reports. The Government of Canada is also updating its website with regular updates on the outbreak.

What is a 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, but has since spread to countries around the world.

What are the symptoms of this coronavirus?

Coronavirus symptoms are not unlike what you would experience with other respiratory illnesses such as influenza or the common cold. Symptoms can appear as quickly as 1-2 days after infection, though as more data becomes available the World Health Organization posits that the incubation period for the virus could be as long as 14 days.

While the severity of coronavirus symptoms can range, signs of infection include a sore throat, shortness of breath, fever, cough, and a runny nose. 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.

How does the coronavirus spread?

Much like other similar viruses, the COVID-19 coronavirus is spread through close contact with an infected person, typically through saliva, nasal discharge or respiratory droplets produced through coughing and sneezing.

What can I do to protect myself from the coronavirus?

The Canadian Red Cross encourages everyone to follow good hygiene practices as recommended by the World Health Organization. Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, avoid direct contact with anyone showing symptoms, and wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

How is the Red Cross helping?


At the request of the Government of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross is currently supporting the comfort and care of repatriated Canadians who are staying in quarantine for a period of 14 days.

This includes a small health clinic to provide medical consultations and non-urgent clinical care for day-to-day medical needs, as needed, to those quarantined at CFB Trenton.

In addition, the Red Cross is providing registration, information, meal delivery, safety and well-being support, access to age-appropriate leisure and recreational activities, wellness checks, referrals for mental health needs, clothing and other personal assistance items, as well as family reunification, which includes facilitating family connections and re-establishing contact with family members.

Individuals trying to get in contact with a family member or loved one that is currently in quarantine can email FamilyReunification@redcross.ca.

Canadian Red Cross aid workers have also been sent to Japan, where they are working with the Japanese health system to support Canadian passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise liner who have tested positive for the virus.

Support the Canadian Red Cross 

The Canadian Red Cross is prepared and ready to support Canadians now during the COVID-19 pandemic and into the Spring and Summer as we anticipate floods, wildfires and other disasters that will affect families and communities. The best way you can support our work is with a donation now to the Canadian Red Cross Fund.  

We have also opened a COVID-19 Global Appeal, which will enable the Red Cross/Red Crescent across the world to support COVID-19 preparedness, response and recovery activities.

How can I stay up to date on the coronavirus?

Misinformation can be incredibly dangerous during any epidemic or emergency, and the coronavirus is no different. If you would like to seek out more information on the virus, 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.