With so many facts and figures on COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 published each day, the dedicated Travelvax webpage comprises a list of journal articles and news extracts which will assist in providing readers with a broad view and better understanding of this global pandemic.
Every morning we wake to new information, data and articles on the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 and the illness it causes, COVID-19. This makes it difficult to keep track of what we do now know – and there is still plenty that we don’t unfortunately – and how it could impact us.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses – so named because of a spiky, halo-like surround – are a large family of viruses that are found in mammals and birds. They cause different diseases depending on the species; in humans they more commonly cause a mild upper respiratory infection, like the common cold, which passes in a few days. During the illness the virus is present in nasal secretions1.
Colds can also be caused by other viruses – rhinovirus is probably the most common – and typically they present as periodic outbreaks in communities during the colder months. Unlike rhinovirus however, immunity to a coronavirus cold is not long-lasting and people can have more than one infection in a season1.
How is this one different?
While human coronaviruses usually cause a mild, cold-like illness, when an animal or avian coronavirus adapts and is able to infect humans (zoonotic transmission), the outcome has the potential to be much more serious. We saw this with two earlier, extensive outbreaks of coronavirus infections of animal origin – SARS2 (in 2002-3) and MERS3 (from 2012 and continuing). The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 is known as SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, as it has some genetic links to the SARS-CoV (which is thought to have originated from bats, with civet cats as the intermediary; dromedary camels are the primary source of MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus)2.
More on COVID-19
Back to what we do know…
The name COVID-19: Coronavirus disease and the year of outbreak, 2019
Transmission: Through close contact with an infectious person or with their secretions - directly by inhalation of droplets from their cough or sneeze or on objects they coughed or sneezed on and then touching your face – eyes, mouth, nose4.
Incubation period: Appears to range from 2 to 14 days
Period of infectiousness: Not known with certainty. Presumed to be from 24-48 hours before onset of symptoms (if present) for up to 10 days after symptom onset in mild to moderate disease. In small proportions of those with more severe disease and infected immunocompromised people infectivity may extend to 20 days5.
Symptoms: Can include fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of senses of smell and/or taste
Tests to confirm infection: The gold standard test for diagnosis of infection is by real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) from a nasopharyngeal swab. Results are returned from a few hours to two days (usually by the next day). Serological (blood) testing detects the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and is useful for surveys of populations to determine prevalence of infection. These tests should not be used to diagnose acute infection. A range of rapid blood tests that check for current or past infection are currently available and are undergoing validation to prove their effectiveness in diagnosing acute COVID-19 infection or recovery from the disease. (Caveat: the implication that recovery confers a degree of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not fully understood). These antibody tests are also available in rapid test kit form, but their utility in excluding or diagnosing infection is very limited. A number of point of care rapid tests that can detect the presence of the virus in blood prick samples, and more recently in saliva and breath samples, are in development. These hold promise in providing a cheap and almost instant result, with the ability to diagnose infection even in asymptomatic individuals.
COVID-19: A mild respiratory illness which can progress to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure. A study6 carried out in China on the medical records of more than 70,000 people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 found that just over 80% of infections were mild (80.9%).
Duration of illness: Mild illness around 2 weeks, severe or critical illness from 3 to 6 weeks7.
Risk factors for severe disease: Older age (>80 years), obesity and those with chronic illness (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer)6.
Treatment: Supportive mostly, managing symptoms. Currently clinical trials of a range of treatments are under way8 and a number of different vaccines are also well into clinical trials, however they are not likely to become widely available to the general public until next year, at the earliest9.
Fatality rates: Case Fatality Ratio (CFR) is the percentage of those who die having confirmed infection. The is varies between countries and differing population with age having a greater bearing on CFR. The CFR for the USA is 2.6%. Infection Fatality Ratio (IFR) is the percentage of all those infected who die. IFR is far more difficult to quantify because the numbers infected includes those with mild symptoms and asymptomatic people who have not been tested. Generally, around the world the IFR is <1%.
Prevention of infection: Stay abreast of the current situation (Australian Dept. of Health daily updates) and, as advised by the WHO: Wash your hands frequently; maintain social distancing from anyone coughing or sneezing; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth; practice respiratory hygiene; and seek medical advice if you have any symptoms.
What to do if you have developed symptoms: healthdirect has an online Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker which is available 24 hours a day. Of course, if you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.
What to do if you think you are infected with COVID-19: As advised by the Aust. Dept. of Health10, if you are concerned that you are sick or have symptoms, contact (don't visit) your doctor or nearest hospital and get tested. Ensure you follow precautions that you will be given and wear a mask to protect others, stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people and practise strict respiratory hygiene (cover your coughs or sneezes with your elbow). In the event of a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 or if health authorities suspect coronavirus infection, advice provided by state/territory public health authorities must be followed. The Federal health department has a designated webpage for people needing to isolate after contracting the coronavirus and it includes contact details for accessing local information in each jurisdiction11.
Travel: If you are able to travel overseas, check the Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website and subscribe to updates12. The site has information on travel bans and restrictions, entry or exit requirements and medical certificates required.
Lastly, not all the information you’ll find on the internet will be accurate. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Mythbusters site provides some common sense answers to questions such as: Will a hand dryer kill the virus (no), is it safe to get a package from China (yes), and can spraying alcohol or chlorine all over your body kill the new coronavirus (no, not if the virus has entered your body, but alcohol and chlorine can be used to wipe down surfaces contaminated by the virus). Best to go to reliable sources such as our federal and state/territory health departments, the Aust. government’s Coronavirus Health Information Line, the US CDC and of course, the WHO.
(This information is current as of October, 2020)
Of primary importance is to get your information and advice from trusted sources
The World Health Organization highlights the importance of traveller’s awareness in preventing the transmission of COVID-19.
The Australian Department of Health has issued a number of resources which includes ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers -
When you travel internationally, biosecurity measures at the airport and in-flight will apply to you. Travel restrictions and other arrangements also apply to people travelling overseas, returning to or visiting Australia.’
- Biosecurity measures
- Travelling overseas
- Citizens and permanent residents returning to Australia
- Foreign nationals entering Australia
- Stay informed
Smartraveller provides Australians with the latest information and advice for safe travel overseas. As such it is the go-to source for all guidance on travel and the advice proffered should be heeded. We also recommend that you subscribe to their updates –
On 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced a ban on all overseas travel, with few exceptions. This has now been extended to June 17, 2021. More information on Smartraveller.
January 8, 2021 update - A decision by the National Cabinet makes masks mandatory for passengers on international flights, and all passengers, excluding children 12 and under or those with particular exemptions on domestic flight. This applies to airports both within Australia and overseas. Additionally, travellers from the UK must provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding the flight at the departure point. Anyone who has a negative test result and enters Australia must still complete mandatory 14-day quarantine at designated facilities in the port of arrival. Read more.
From the Australian Department of Health, a collection of resources for the general public and industry about coronavirus:
Helping to stop the spread of coronavirus is something that we can all do. Watch this video for practical tips.
Identifying the symptoms - explains the different symptoms you may experience if you have coronavirus (COVID-19), a cold, or the flu.
Find the facts (Aust. Dept. of Health) –
- frequently asked questions
- what you need to know - what it is, how it spreads, who is most at risk, and what you can do to help stop it spreading
- guidance for people tested for COVID-19
- information -
- -for parents and for families
- -for aged care residents and home support clients
- -for employers
- -for infection control in community sports
- -for international travellers
- -for travel, transport and hotel industries
- Experts answer coronavirus/COVID-19 questions - Youtube presentation produced by The Conversation in which questions on COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2 virus are answered by experts Dr Lisa Sedger, a lecturer in Virology, Immunology and Flow Cytometry at the UTS Faculty of Science, and Professor Michael Wallach, Associate Head of School (Strategic Development) at the university's School of Life Sciences.
- WHO: Similarities and differences – COVID-19 and influenza Q&A - Both viral infections which cause fever and respiratory symptoms, but what about transmission and other important differences? The WHO published answers to the questions – How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses similar? How are COVID-19 and influenza viruses different? What medical interventions are available for COVID-19 and influenza viruses? Read more
COVID-19 and influenza - Written by Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty. Read more
- WHO: Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding Read more
- CDC: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Healthy Parenting Read more
- WHO: Q&A on COVID-19 for older people Read more
- 'Why the Coronavirus has been so successful' discusses why 'this seventh coronavirus [was] the one to go pandemic' - the other six infecting humans, consisting of SARS, MERS and four more which 'have been gently annoying humans for more than a century, causing a third of common colds'. Read more
- Coronavirus on different surfaces: SMH: COVID-19 virus can last almost a month on smartphones and ATMs, CSIRO finds Read more
- Pandemic could worsen loneliness in vulnerable populations - At a time of social distancing thoughts must be with those who must remain isolated due to their vulnerability. A Vox article points out that: ‘The more the young and healthy are careful in their daily activities, the safer it will be for them to see more vulnerable friends and family members. The less careful we are, however, the more we will stay away from older, sicker relations out of caution, worsening their isolation.’ Walks in green space and video calls are just two ways of maintaining that important contact.
- A video to help explain COVID-19 to children
- NCIRS: COVID-19 in schools – the experience in NSW
- Siouxsie Wiles: What we know about children and Covid-19 Read more
- US CDC recommendations for home isolation with pets
- Coronavirus FAQs: What Are The New Dating Rules? And What About Hooking Up? NPR
- COVID-19 Expert Reality Check: JH Bloomberg School of Public Health; Global Health Now