General information on COVID-19

Preface
Please remember that the Government's Framework of Restrictions always take precedence over any HPSC guidance, with regard to which level of restriction applies within Ireland.

Q. What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2.  SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the family of viruses known as coronaviruses and was first identified in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019. Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals but some coronaviruses can also infect humans.  SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2.

Q. What is a variant?
Viruses constantly change.  A variant means a virus has undergone one or more genetic changes. These changes are also known as mutations. It is a normal occurrence for a virus to change over time. Most of these changes do not have a significant impact on the spread of a virus. However, some mutations can allow a virus to spread more easily and/or can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccines. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear, other times new variants persist.

Q. What is known about the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC)?
Multiple (mutations) of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been identified some of which are of particular concern (variants of concern (VOC’s) because of their increased transmissibility and the increased numbers of cases of COVID-19 seen in areas where they were initially identified. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published a risk assessment regarding these variants:  “Risk related to the spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in the EU/EEA – first update, 21st January 2021”, available here. Investigation into these variants is ongoing.

HPSC produce a report on virus variant data which can be found here.

Q. Can we stop the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOC)?
No, the emergence of new variants is a natural occurrence and is to be expected. We can however slow their emergence by following recommended public health measures and by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Q. Why is the Delta variant important?
The Delta virus is a variant of concern (VOC), evidence suggests that it spreads much faster than other variants and is highly transmissible. It may also cause more severe illness than other variants.  Coronavirus infections can sometimes occur in people who are fully vaccinated and there is some evidence that fully vaccinated people who get infected can spread the virus to others.

Q. Why is the Omicron variant important?
The Omicron variant has recently been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation. Researchers around the world are currently conducting studies to better understand elements such as the transmissibility of the variant and the severity of disease it can cause. It is not yet clear whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) or whether it causes more severe illness compared to other variants, including Delta.

Q. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue

Other symptoms that are less common and may affect some patients include:

  • Loss of taste or smell,
  • Nasal congestion,
  • Conjunctivitis (also known as red eyes)
  • Sore throat,
  • Headache,
  • Muscle or joint pain,
  • Different types of skin rash,
  • Nausea or vomiting,
  • Diarrhea,
  • Chills or dizziness.

Symptoms of severe COVID‐19 disease may include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, high temperature (above 38 °C).

Q. What should I do if I develop any COVID-19 symptoms:
If you have any new symptoms, even if mild, self-isolate, do not attend work or school, and arrange to get a COVID-19 test. Please see here for further information on testing.

Q. How can I explain what COVID-19 is to a child?
Axel Scheffler, an illustrator for popular children’s books has teamed up with some experts in the UK.  They made a book, ‘Coronavirus and Covid: A book for children about the pandemic’, which is freely available here.  The book discusses Coronaviruses, COVID-19, Vaccines, and ‘What’s going to happen next?’ in simple language appropriate for 5 to 9 -year olds.

Q. How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is present in fluids in the mouth nose and airways of an infectious person.  The virus spreads from person to person mainly through the air- as an infectious person breathes, blows, speaks, shouts or sings the virus is dispersed into the air as respiratory liquid particles.  If these particles come in contact with another person’s nose, mouth, or eyes there is a risk that person might catch Coronavirus.  This can also occur by mouth to mouth contact, for example by kissing.  The virus spreads more easily in overcrowded poorly ventilated places where people for example cannot socially distance. To reduce this risk, it is advised spaces are adequately ventilated, 2 metre social distance is maintained and face coverings are worn as appropriate.  

The virus can also be spread indirectly as a result of getting the respiratory fluids of an infected person onto your hands or other surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. To reduce this risk, it is important we clean our hands regularly, avoid touching our face, and regularly clean (and disinfect when necessary) frequently touched surfaces.

Q. Does that mean that the virus is spread on air?
Yes, the virus can be spread on air when it is expelled from respiratory tract (the mouth, nose and upper airways) of an infected person and enters the respiratory tract of another person.

To reduce this risk, it is important to continue to wear masks/face coverings when close contact with other people cannot be avoided.  We can also reduce the risk by ensuring there is adequate ventilation in indoor spaces,  by meeting outdoors, and by minimising the length of time we are in contact with each other.

Q.Can the virus survive on surfaces and objects like door handles or pens?
if the respiratory fluids of an infectious person land on a surface such as a table or door handle then these surfaces or items can become contaminated.  If another person comes along and touches these surfaces and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands they can become infected with the virus. The virus has been found to survive on some surfaces up to 72 hours after landing on it.

To reduce the risk of transmission we should clean our hands regularly, avoid touching our face, and regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Q. How long can the COVID-19 virus survive on surfaces?
SARS-CoV-2 the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper, and less than 24 hours on cardboard. As the virus has the ability to survive on surfaces, it is important to clean areas that may be contaminated regularly, particularly in areas with high footfall, e.g. reception areas and objects with high touch surfaces e.g. tea/coffee machines, handles of doors, vending machines. Regular cleaning of frequently–touched hard surfaces and of hands will help reduce the risk of infection. The use of a general -purpose household detergent for cleaning surfaces is generally sufficient.

Last updated: 6th January 2022