Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to know

It’s official – the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19, the new coronavirus, a pandemic.

Since early cases of the new coronavirus were first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, it has spread across 113 countries, with many experts predicting that case numbers will continue to rise unless calculated measures are taken to contain the coronavirus.

close up of hands being washed
Frequent hand washing can help reduce the spread of the new coronavirus

What is coronavirus and where did it come from?

According to WHO, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  

In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS. The most recently discovered coronavirus causes the disease known as COVID-19.

The source of the new coronavirus is believed to be a “wet market” in Wuhan which sold both dead and live animals. This market, and markets like this, pose a significant risk of viruses jumping from animals to humans because hygiene standards are tough to maintain when animals are butchered on site. These markets are also typically densely packed and highly populated.

How is coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with the disease coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects or surfaces around the infected person. If other people touch these objects or surfaces then touch their eyes, nose or mouth they can catch the virus.

People can also catch the new coronavirus if they breathe in droplets from a person with the virus who coughs out or exhales droplets.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • Fever
  • Dry Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Sputum (thick mucus coughed up from the lungs)
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.

Who is at risk of coronavirus?

Illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults.

However, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others. About 1 in 5 people who catch COVID-19 need hospital care.

Nurse checking blood pressure
Underlying health conditions like high blood pressure can increase the severity of coronavirus

Prevention

As of this writing, there is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19. However, you can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading the virus by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, don’t use your hand
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Clean high touch surfaces eg. toilets, desks, electronics, door handles etc.

Strengthening communities to fight Coronavirus

The new coronavirus is more contagious than the flu and has an incubation period of up to 2 weeks. Experts predict that cases could continue to rise in the next couple months – placing a lot of pressure on healthcare systems. This is especially worrisome as the virus has been reported in many developing countries where there are significant gaps in accessing healthcare.

Plan International is on the ground in many countries with reported cases of the new coronavirus, such as China, India and Egypt, and our projects in these countries center on two crucial aspects of preventing and treating COVID-19.

  1. Increasing access to clean water and sanitation

Approximately, 2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities – necessities crucial for health, survival and prevention of illness. In fact, a lack of access to clean water is the world’s single largest cause of illness.

That’s why Plan International works with communities, in schools and in health facilities, to improve access to clean, safe water and sanitation.

girl washing her hands in Africa

2. Removing the barriers to healthcare

The inability to access healthcare puts the lives of millions at risk every day.

Plan International works with communities, local partners, young people and governments in remote, disadvantaged communities to address socio-economic, cultural and gender related barriers to accessing quality health services. These include:

  • Helping communities construct or rehabilitate health centres, purchase necessary equipment, medicines and supplies.
  • Training frontline health workers and community outreach workers
  • Providing community members with better information on how to monitor and manage their health
  • Disease prevention and treatment. We operate education and awareness initiatives and programs on critical health issues that communities are facing.
Man putting face mask on doctor
Plan International was on the ground providing much-needed medical support and disease prevention awareness during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia

Working together in response to COVID-19

Our response to COVID-19 will focus on working with communities, national governments and partners to tackle the spread of the coronavirus through dissemination of public health information and promotion of best hygiene practices, including installation of hand-washing facilities.

We will work with teachers, parents and health care providers to ensure children get the support they need during this crisis.  In addition, we will intensify support and preventive measures in refugee and displaced camps where we currently work.