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Disease: COVID-19, Virus: SARS-CoV-2


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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms range from a mild cough to pneumonia. Some people recover easily, others may get very sick very quickly. There is evidence that it spreads from person to person. Good hygiene can prevent infection.

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

This new coronavirus originated in Hubei Province, China and the disease caused by the virus is named COVID-19.

How it spreads

Coronavirus COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct close contact with an infectious person, or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared
  • close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face
Coronavirus covid-19 cell structure


Coronavirus Symptoms

Symptoms are similar to other colds and flu and include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • difficulty breathing

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill.

Who is at risk

In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have:

  • recently traveled overseas, particularly to high risk countries
  • been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of Coronavirus COVID-19

Based on what we know about coronaviruses, other people most at risk of serious infection are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities
  • very young children and babies

At this stage the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in the transmission of Coronavirus COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed Coronavirus COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population.


Practicing good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and keeping away from others when they are — or if you are — sick is the best defense against most viruses. You also should:

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • if unwell, avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 meters from people)
  • exercise personal responsibility for social distancing measures

Wearing a surgical masks is only helpful in preventing people who have Coronavirus COVID-19 from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.

Find out more in our fact sheet about the use of surgical masks.

Read more about protective measures against coronavirus on the World Health Organization website.

If you have a confirmed case, you need to isolate yourself to prevent it spreading to other people.


Coronavirus testing and diagnosis

If you become unwell and think you may have symptoms of coronavirus, seek medical attention.

Your doctor will decide if you need testing, based on the following criteria:

  • you have returned from overseas in the 14 days before you feel unwell
  • you have been a close or casual contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in the 14 days before you feel unwell
  • you have a fever or acute respiratory infection (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, sore throat) with or without fever
  • you have a severe community-acquired pneumonia and no other cause of it is clear to your doctor, with or without recent international travel
  • if you are a healthcare worker with direct patient contact and have a fever (≥37.5) and an acute respiratory infection (e.g. shortness of breath, cough, sore throat)

Call ahead of time to book an appointment. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has coronavirus.

If you must leave home to see your doctor, wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others.

If you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.

Find out what happens if you have a suspected case of coronavirus.


There is no treatment for coronavirus, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms. Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

If you have been diagnosed with coronavirus, isolate yourself in your home.

How to isolate yourself

Do not go to public places, such as work, school, shopping centers, childcare or university. If possible, ask other people to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door.

Only people who usually live with you should be in your home. Do not let in visitors.

You do not need to wear a mask in your home.

If you need to leave home to seek medical attention, wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others.

To find out more, read our home isolation information sheet.

Coronavirus under microscope


covid-19 prevention