Last checked: 27 March, 2020
Information: ERS Statement on COVID-19 and upcoming ERS events
COVID-19: information and resources
The 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak and spread of the associated disease (COVID-19) is a rapidly evolving situation. To manage the threat of continued SARS-CoV-2 infection and the risk to public health caused by COVID-19, health professionals need up-to-date information and guidance on global surveillance, infection control measures and identifying and caring for people with COVID-19.
This resource area brings together information about the outbreak and COVID-19 content from ERS and ELF as it is published. All content listed on this page is free to access.
Outbreak summary and updates
What is the novel coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The 2019 novel coronavirus, called 'SARS-CoV-2' (previously referred to as 2019-nCoV), is a new strain that has not been identified in humans before. The disease that is caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called 'COVID-19'.
On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of several cases of viral pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, China.
The outbreak has rapidly evolved, affecting other parts of China and many countries worldwide in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Australia and Africa. On 11 March 2020, WHO labelled the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic.
ERS recommends consulting the WHO's daily situation reports for the latest updates on the number of people who are being treated for COVID-19 and the geographic spread of SARS-CoV-2.
How does the virus spread and what are the symptoms?
The WHO reports that human-to-human transmission is occurring with a preliminary R0 estimate of 1.4–2.5. Current estimates of the incubation period of the virus range from 2–14 days, and the virus seems to be transmitted mainly via flu-like symptoms and respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale.
Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and tiredness. More serious cases develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock.
Generally, older people and those with underlying conditions (such as hypertension, heart disorders, diabetes, liver disorders, and respiratory disease) are expected to be more at risk of developing severe symptoms.
The evidence from analyses of cases to date is that COVID-19 infection causes mild disease (i.e. non-pneumonia or mild pneumonia) in about 80% of cases and most cases recover; 14% have more severe disease and 6% experience critical illness.
How can people avoid infection and reduce spread of the virus?
Anyone can contract the virus, therefore it is important to take steps to prevent further spread of SARS-CoV-2. The public should follow standard infection prevention recommendations, including by:
- Regular hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time
- Avoiding touching your face, especially the mouth, eyes and nose
- Covering the mouth and nose with the inner elbow when coughing or sneezing
- Avoiding crowded places
- Staying at home if you feel unwell - even with a slight fever or cough
- Avoiding close contact with persons showing symptoms of respiratory illness, including coughing or sneezing
If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early, but always call your healthcare provider by phone first.
If you have had close contact with a person who has COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider by phone for advice and inform them that you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19. They will provide guidance on further steps to take.
What is the situation in the European region?
There have been more than 260,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in the EU/EEA and the UK so far. Appropriate public health measures have been implemented in the EU/EEA and UK countries, and strong efforts are being made to identify, isolate and test contacts in order to contain the outbreak.
In its latest risk report, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says:
- The risk of severe disease associated with COVID-19 infection for people in the EU/EEA and UK is currently considered moderate for the general population and high for older adults and individuals with chronic underlying conditions.
- The risk of milder disease, and the consequent impact on social and work-related activity, is considered high.
- The risk of occurrence of widespread national community transmission of COVID-19 in the EU/EEA and the UK in the coming weeks is high.
- The risk of healthcare system capacity being exceeded in the EU/EEA and the UK in the coming weeks is considered high.
Advice for healthcare professionals and scientists
As with SARS and MERS, when dealing with patients who may have COVID-19, health professionals should follow airborne precautions and wear respiratory masks (N95 or higher) during intubation and when entering a negative pressure room. Healthcare professionals are advised to consult the:
- ECDC hospital preparedness checklist
- WHO clinical guidance for COVID-19 patient management
- WHO technical guidance on SARS-CoV-2 laboratory testing
The EU's PREPARE network has mobilised to mode 3 response activity to immediately initiate and implement clinical research studies on SARS-CoV-2 across Europe, and the European Commission has also secured an additional €37.5 million for research on COVID-19 vaccine development, treatment and diagnostics.