In late 2019, an outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus (also known as novel coronavirus or COVID-19) was reported in Wuhan, China. Since then cases have been reported in a number of other countries including Canada and the United States. Here's everything you need to know about novel coronavirus, how you can look after yourself and what UNICEF is doing to help.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found in both animals and humans. Some infect people and are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
COVID-19 has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. What does that mean?
Characterizing COVID-19 as a pandemic is not an indication that the virus has become deadlier. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the disease’s geographical spread.
UNICEF has been preparing and responding to the epidemic of COVID-19 around the world, knowing that the virus could spread to children and families in any country or community. UNICEF will continue working with governments and our partners to stop transmission of the virus, and to keep children and their families safe.
There’s a lot of information online. What should I do?
There are a lot of myths and misinformation about coronavirus being shared online – including on how COVID-19 spreads, how to stay safe, and what to do if you’re worried about having contracted the virus.
So, it’s important to be careful where you look for information and advice. UNICEF Canada will share any information we receive from our global offices, as soon as it becomes publicly available. In addition, the WHO has a useful section addressing some of the most frequently asked questions.
It’s also advisable to keep up to date on travel, education and other guidance provided by the Government of Canada, as well as your provincial Ministry of Health.
How is the novel coronavirus spread?
Like other coronaviruses, novel coronavirus is transmitted through direct contact, respiratory droplets like coughing and sneezing, and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.
What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?
Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How can I avoid the risk of infection?
The World Health Organization recommends the following steps, to avoid infection:
- Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub for a minimum of 25 seconds.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing; if possible, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
- Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe
Does the novel coronavirus affect children?
This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected with the virus, but so far there have been no reported fatalities of children linked to the novel coronavirus. The virus is fatal in rare cases, so far mainly among older people with pre-existing medical conditions.
What should I do if my child has symptoms of COVID-19?
Seek medical attention, but remember that it’s flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, and symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough or fever can be similar to those of the flu, or the common cold – which are a lot more frequent.
Continue to follow good hand and respiratory hygiene practices like regular handwashing, and keep your child up to date with vaccinations – so that your child is protected against other viruses and bacteria causing diseases.
If you or your child are having symptoms, consult your provincial governments' health ministry for next steps, and try to avoid going to public places (workplace, schools, public transport), to prevent it spreading to others.
How can I talk to my children about coronavirus?
It’s understandable if you’re feeling worried about COVID-19. But fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse. Your children may be hearing a lot about the new Coronavirus, from a lot of confusing and conflicting sources. Don't be afraid to talk about it with them! Here are some tips to help guide those important conversations:
- Listen first. Does your child want to talk about it? Take their lead.
- Stick to the facts. It’s important to be honest with your child. Speak accurately about the risk from COVID-19, based on scientific data and latest official health advice.
- Be part of the solution. Talk to your child about what they can do, such as covering their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and washing their hands regularly with soap and water.
- Be mindful. Remember children can pick up on your response to the news. Stay calm and informed. Don't repeat or share unconfirmed rumours, and avoid using hyperbolic language designed to generate fear like “plague”, “apocalypse” etc.
- Act on advice. Those in charge have taken swift action to control the virus. Follow advice from both the federal and your provincial governments' health ministries.
What is UNICEF doing to help?
UNICEF is working closely with WHO, local governments and other United Nations and Humanitarian team partners to respond to COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus). UNICEF is responding to the outbreak by focusing on limiting the human-to-human transmission and mitigating the impact of the outbreak on the health system and affected communities including:
- Provide critical hygiene and medical supplies
- Lead education and engagement activities in at-risk communities
- Ensure that children and pregnant and lactating women are supported with adequate health care
- In communities where schools may be closed or quarantined, UNICEF will facilitate continued access to education and provide psychosocial support to those affected
UNICEF has also taken part in a coordinated global humanitarian response plan to fight COVID-19; UNICEF specifically is appealing for $651.6 million (USD) to support its global humanitarian response plan and protect the world’s most vulnerable children by:
- Shoring up preparedness and response plans in countries with weaker healthcare systems;
- Increasing access to proper handwashing and sanitation services;
- Providing communities with information they need during the pandemic;
- Maintaining a steady flow of personal protection equipment such as gowns, masks, goggles and gloves — to support infection prevention and control while keeping essential, hard-working health workers safe;
- Working with governments to strengthen protection services, psychosocial support and remote learning opportunities for all the children, and particularly for the most vulnerable children.