Frequently asked questions

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What is a coronavirus?

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 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

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 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.

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What is COVID-19 (coronavirus)? 

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

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What are the symptoms of COVID-19? 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
  • a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste
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If I have symptoms of COVID-19 what should I do?

If you have symptoms, however mild, you should self-isolate (stay at home) for seven days from the onset of symptoms. If you live with others they will all need to stay at home for 14 days and follow the guidance for self-isolation.

Do not go to your GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. Calling your GP is only necessary if you have:

  • an existing health condition;
  • problems with your immune system;
  • very serious symptoms.

If it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

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What does self-isolation mean?

Self-isolation means you should:

  • stay at home;
  • ask friends or family members to bring you things you need such as medication and groceries or use delivery services for shopping which must be left outside your home for you to collect;
  • separate yourself from others with the door closed or stay at least 2 metres (6 feet) away from people in your home;
  • stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions as much as possible;
  • stay in a well ventilated room with a window that can be opened to keep air moving;
  • sleep alone, if possible;
  • clean toilet/bathrooms after your use if you share then with others (wiping surfaces you have come into contact with everytime);
  • wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water;
  • use separate towels at all times from other in the household;
  • stay in touch with others over the phone or through social media;

You should not:

  • go to work, public areas or use public transport or taxis;
  • go outside unless you have access to your own garden;
  • invite people into your home;
  • share towels, bedding or eating utensils and dishes, cups and glasses.
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Is there any treatment for COVID-19?

There is currently no specific treatment for COVID-19. Antibiotics do not help as they do not work against viruses. You can ease the symptoms at home until you recover by:

  • getting plenty of rest;
  • drinking water to keep yourself hydrated – you should drink enough to ensure your urine (pee) is a pale, clear colour;
  • use over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol to help with some of your symptoms. Make sure you follow manufacturer’s instructions and do not exceed the recommended dose.
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When should self-isolation end?

If you have symptoms you should remain at home until seven days after the onset of symptoms.

If after seven days you feel better and have not had a high temperature for 48 hours you can return to your normal routine. Your cough may persist but a cough alone does not mean you must self-isolate for more than seven days. The seven day period starts from the day when you first became ill.

If you have not improved and haven’t already sought medical advice you should call your GP.

If someone you live with has symptoms you should remain at home for 14 days from the onset of their symptoms. If you develop symptoms you must stay at home for a further 7 days, regardless of what day you are on in the original 14 day isolation period.

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Can I get tested if I think I have COVID-19 symptoms?

Further information on the latest guidance on testing in Northern Ireland can be found here .

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How can I help stop the spread of COVID-19?

You can help stop the spread by:

  • washing your hands frequently and thoroughly for 20 seconds throughout the day;
  • covering your coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or into the crook of your elbow if you do not have tissues. Dispose of tissues in a rubbish bin and immediately wash your hands;
  • practising social distancing ensuring you keep 2metres (6feet) away from others at all times;
  • staying at home and only going out for food, health reasons, work or to exercise once a day.
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Should I wear a face covering?

It is recommended you should think about using face coverings in particular circumstances ­- short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. See PHA advice regarding face coverings here.

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Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent or treat COVID-19. Those affected should receive care to relieve symptoms. People with serious illness should be hospitalised. Most patients recover thanks to supportive care.

Possible vaccines and some specific drug treatments are under investigation and are being tested through clinical trials. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop vaccines and medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19.

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How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

The most important thing to know about coronavirus on surfaces is that they can easily be cleaned with common household disinfectants that will kill the virus. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus 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 always clean your hands by washing with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub and avoid touching your face.

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What effect does coronavirus have on pregnant women?

Generally, pregnant women do not appear to be more likely to be seriously unwell than other healthy adults if they develop coronavirus. It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms. Cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache and loss of sense of smell are other relevant symptoms. As yet, there is no evidence that pregnant women who get this infection are more at risk of serious complications than any other healthy individuals.If you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19 you should ring NHS 111 for information or advice and they will help you decide if you need to contact your GP. If you develop more severe symptoms or your recovery is delayed and you are not getting better, you should contact your maternity care team, your GP or in an emergency, call 999 and inform the operator of your symptoms.

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Is my baby at risk of COVID-19?

Babies can potentially catch COVID-19 after birth from anyone infected with the virus, even if that person does not feel unwell. To reduce the risk of your baby contracting the virus:

  • take your baby home as soon as the hospital discharges you;
  • don’t let visitors, even close family, into your home;
  • you and your baby should stay at home for 14 days if anyone in your household develops a continuous cough or high temperature;
  • in particular, you should keep your baby away from people with a cough, fever or other viral symptoms such as a runny nose, vomiting or diarrhoea.

If you have concerns about your baby’s health at any time, contact your midwife or health visitor.

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Can my baby catch COVID-19 through my breastmilk?

There is currently no evidence that the virus can be transmitted through breastmilk. When breastfeeding you should take the following precautions:

  • wash your hands before touching your baby, breast pumps or bottles;
  • try to avoid coughing or sneezing on the baby while feeding;
  • follow pump cleaning recommendations after each use;
  • if you feel unwell, ask someone who is well to feed your baby.
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Will my baby or toddler still get their childhood vaccinations?

Yes. Routine screening and immunisation for your baby will continue as per normal immunisation schedule. It is important that children and babies keep their vaccinations up to date as they will protect them from serious diseases. It also means that when your children can return to interacting with other children, they’ll have protection from some other diseases too.

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How do I stay safe while being physically active during COVID-19?

It is important to keep active during this time. You can go outdoors for physical activity once a day alone or with members of your household ensuring you stay two metres (6 feet) apart from others at all times.

This advice excludes those who are in high clinical risk groups, or in houses where someone has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).

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Should I do my grocery shopping differently during COVID-19?

If possible go once a week, off-peak, when there are less people.

Before you go shopping wash your hands for 20 seconds and if sanitiser is available wipe handles on the trolley or basket before and after use. Try to avoid touching your face and remember to stay 6 feet (2m) apart from the next person. If possible use a contactless method of payment.

Once home, wash your hands well and after handling and storing your purchased goods. You should also wash fruit and vegetables before eating as usual but there is no evidence to suggest you need to do this with the rest of your groceries.

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I am worried about my elderly relatives - can I visit them?

No, you should not be visiting any family members who do not live in your home. You can keep in touch with them using phone or video calls. Where your relatives are elderly or vulnerable, you may leave your house to help them, for example by dropping shopping or medication at their door. You can also help them to order online.

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Can I see my friends?

We must all stay away from each other to stop spreading the virus, and that means you should not be meeting friends unless you live in the same household.

Instead, you could keep in touch with your friends using phone or video calls.

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Can I make an appointment with my dentist?

During the COVID-19 outbreak most dentists will not operate as they would normally so you should:

  • your dentist or staff in the dental practice will ask you some questions over the phone to assess your condition. Some of these questions may include if you have a temperature or a cough;
  • if appropriate, you may receive a call back from a dentist, be given relevant advice, issued with a prescription or asked to come into the practice.
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Can I make an appointment with my optometrist (optician)?

Community optometrists are still open but have changed the way they see patients.

Routine examinations have temporarily stopped but your optometrist is still available by telephone or email to provide emergency and essential eye care.

If you have an urgent eye problem telephone your optometrist first.

If you have an emergency eye condition, such as a severe eye injury, go to your local Emergency Department or eye casualty.

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Will wearing contact lenses put me at greater risk of COVID-19?

Currently there is no evidence to suggest contact lens wearers are more at risk for acquiring COVID-19 than eyeglass wearers. Contact lens wearers should continue to practice safe contact lens wear and care hygiene habits, such as always washing hands with soap and water before handling lenses, to help prevent the transmission of any contact lens-related infections.

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Can I attend a funeral during COVID-19?

If a loved one passes away during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a number of restrictions have been put in place for funeral services to protect the safety of families and loved ones, as well as all those who officiate at services.

Only the following should attend the funeral, up to a maximum of 10 people including:

  • members of the person’s household;
  • close family members;
  • if the deceased has neither household nor family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to be there.

In many situations the household members of the deceased person will be the next of kin; who may be self-isolating in line with household guidance. Where the funeral is scheduled to take place before the period of household isolation has been completed (14 days from the first case in that household), there should be no mixing between mourners who are self-isolating and those who are not.

Anyone displaying symptoms of COVID-19 disease or awaiting test results should not attend.

Those who do attend will need to adhere to social distancing; a safe distance of at least 2 metres/6 feet must be maintained between individuals at all times this includes travelling to and from the funeral. 

A funeral notice may be placed in newspapers or using online services but the funeral arrangements should not be advertised. 

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Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet?

There is an issue around the capacity for pets to carry the virus on their fur or skin, as with any other surface. The World Health Organization (WHO) states you should wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets. Therefore to keep you and your pet safe minimise potential exposure to the virus by washing your hands after handling pets and isolating pets if someone in your household shows symptoms of COVID-19. 

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