COVID-19-Masks on bike

Coronavirus Q&A

Your questions answered on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is a contagious virus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019.  It causes flu-like and respiratory symptoms and can be transmitted from person to person. Health authorities in China and across the world are concerned about the virus and are working together to try to control its spread. 

So far tens of thousands of people have been infected, with the health crisis centred on mainland China. On January 30, 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a public health emergency of international concern. The number of countries reporting people with the virus is continuing to grow.

Is the virus dangerous?

The virus is from a family of viruses that include the common cold, as well as more dangerous viruses such as SARS and MERS. There is still much to learn about the virus. Current statistics show that about 2-3% of those infected with COVID-19 die in countries that have reasonably good access to advanced health services (e.g. China) and equipment and supplies such as ventilators and oxygen.  The case fatality rate in countries with weaker health systems is expected to be higher.  Those at greater risk include people with chronic health conditions or who are elderly. To get a sense of perspective, cases of influenza, more commonly known as the flu, currently dwarf the number of coronavirus cases by several orders of magnitude.  However, the death rate for seasonal flu is much smaller (about 0.1%) than that of COVID-19. 

What are the symptoms?

Common signs include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, chills, bodyache, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome.

How can I protect myself and my loved ones?

WHO standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows:

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;

  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands;

  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough;

  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider;

  • When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;

  • The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

Should people wear masks?

The World Health Organisation states that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with the suspected 2019-nCoV infection. 

The WHO states that a medical mask is not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons. However, masks might be worn in some countries according to local cultural habits. If masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal (see website below for advice regarding appropriate mask management).

Note: World Vision encourages any purchase of masks to be directed towards health professionals and not for public use in order to prevent a shortage of masks among doctors and nurses who really need them. However, in some cultural contexts governments require those in public to wear masks and in these cases mask purchase for communities is acceptable. 

For more information on masks see WHO recommendations for when and how to use masks and their publication with recommendations for how to best use masks

Can the virus be treated?

Just like the common cold, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus.  However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. 

How are governments trying to control the spread of the virus?

The Chinese government has taken extraordinary measures to control the spread of the virus both within the country and across borders.  Wuhan and a number of our cities have been put in lockdown affecting over 51 million people have been affected by the lockdown. Transport networks and hubs have been suspended and a massive programme to ramp up the number of hospital beds launched.  

The World Health Organization has also been working closely with the Chinese and other governments to track the spread of the disease and advise health authorities. Dozens of airlines have stopped flying to China and in countries where cases have been found the infected are being isolated and monitored. 

What is World Vision doing to respond?

World Vision China has mobilised a response that aims to target nearly 1.3m people. World Vision China will not only respond to the rapid increase in the emergent needs for protective and hygiene items, but also to the needs for psychosocial support, and future preparedness for an epidemic outbreak. World Vision is working in collaboration with local authorities, hospitals, academic institutions and NGOs, prioritizing the response to the needs of children (including registered children), their families and their communities, as well as local health workers, in areas where WVC has programmes. Patients with the virus in Wuhan City, Hubei Province which is the epicentre of the disease outbreak, are also the targets of this response plan.  The emergency response will include providing face masks to communities and health workers, distributing hand sanitizers and other personal hygiene items, and supporting efforts by local health authorities, schools and local partners to communicate stay-safe health messages.  The cost of these efforts is estimated to be US$4.7m.  

World Vision offices across Asia are closely monitoring the spread of the virus and are putting in place Coronavirus response plans to support sponsored children in areas where the virus is present.  

How is this affecting your operations?

We are closely monitoring the situation which is changing by the day.  We are providing travel guidance for staff as well as health information that is designed to keep them safe.  We will also be led by government and local authority health guidance which may at times prevent travel or require people to work from home.

What are your concerns for children and those you work with?

Countries with effective health systems are in a much better place to monitor, identify and treat those with the virus, as well as to prevent its spread.  We are most concerned about countries where the health systems and monitoring are weak, where people may already be suffering from diseases which are common among the poor, such as malaria, TB, pneumonia, HIV and AIDS, Ebola or where immune systems are compromised by severe malnutrition.  People living in these contexts are at greater risk from coronavirus.