Last checked: December 2020
Information: ERS Statement on COVID-19 and upcoming ERS events
ERS COVID-19 resource centre
The ERS COVID-19 resource centre brings together all European Respiratory Society (ERS) and European Lung Foundation (ELF) resources on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 as it is published.
ERS is committed to supporting health workers during these challenging times by providing up-to-date information and a variety of educational resources, all of which are free-to-access.
The following companies are supporting this ERS initiative through grants. Grantors have no influence on the content or development of this platform.
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.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, muscle pain and tiredness. More serious cases can develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock. Anosmia – loss of the sense of smell or sometimes the sense of taste – has also been reported as a symptom of COVID-19 infection.
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 does COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 is transmitted from human-to-human mainly via flu-like symptoms and respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, or exhale. These droplets land on objects and surfaces, and others can catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 by breathing in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs or exhales droplets.
The infectious period may begin 1–2 days before symptoms appear, but people are likely most infectious during the symptomatic period, even if symptoms are mild. The infectious period is estimated to last for 7–12 days in moderate cases and up to 2 weeks in severe cases.
How is COVID-19 treated?
In severe cases of COVID-19, patients who are hospitalised may be intubated using a ventilator in order to support their ability to breathe. The European Lung Foundation (ELF) has prepared a factsheet that explains what will happen once a person goes into hospital, how their symptoms will be managed and what will happen if they get put on a ventilator. Access the ELF factsheet - available in multiple languages.
On 21 December 2020, the European Medicine Agency (EMA) granted a conditional marketing authorisation for the vaccine Comirnaty, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, to prevent COVID-19 in people from 16 years of age. It is the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive authorisation in the EU.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also recently published (4 December, 2020) an overview of COVID-19 vaccination strategies and vaccine deployment plans in the EU/EEA and the UK.
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 and technical guidance for COVID-19 patient management
- WHO technical guidance on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19