COVID-19 Basics

Director Central Health Establishments, Islamabad.

On 30 January 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, following the advice of the Emergency Committee convened under the International Health Regulations (2005), declared the current outbreak of COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. The outbreaks reported so far have occurred primarily within clusters of cases exposed through close-contacts, within families or special gathering events. Following is a brief description of various terms used in COVID-19 for the understanding of general public.

What is COVID-19?

COVID is short for Corona virus disease. The number 19 refers to the fact that the disease was first detected in 2019. It is caused by Corona Virus.

What is Corona Virus?

Under a microscope, the viruses appear to be surrounded by a spiky or crown-like shape hence the name Corona Virus. The technical name of the virus that causes COVID-19 is Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2.

The mode of spread is through droplets after coughing, sneezing, and exhaling. Other people can then pick up the virus by breathing in these droplets or coming into contact with surfaces that have been contaminated with the droplets (such as by touching an object and then touching parts of the face).

What is Quarantine?

To understand Quarantine, we have to understand concept of Incubation Period which may be defined as a time period between introduction of a microorganism (exposure to a communicable disease) and appearance of signs and symptoms of a disease. We quarantine a healthy person to see whether he will exhibit disease during such period or not.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines Quarantine as the separation of a person or group of people reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease quarantine periods equals incubation period of a communicable disease but not yet symptomatic, from others who have not been so exposed, to prevent the possible spread of the communicable disease”. As the Incubation Period of COVID-19 is 14 days therefore, Quarantine of same number of days is required.

Quarantine does not have to be scary: rather it is an effective way to protect the public. It is a tool for separating and restricting the movement of people who are exposed or are potentially exposed to a contagious disease. Voluntary quarantine is when someone isn’t ordered to go into quarantine but chooses to do so just out of caution and is often also called self-quarantine. Quarantines may be used in times of:

  •  Outbreaks: The sudden rise of cases of a disease in a specific region.
    Epidemics: Outbreak of a disease over a larger area or all over a country.
    Pandemics: Widespread disease involving the entire globe,affecting a lot of people generally.
  • Who is quarantined?
  • Anyone, who has had a close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of corona virus infection or has during last days travelled from an endemic area, qualifies for Quarantine.
  • Close contact is defined as being within 2 meters or 6 feet from a person infected with COVID-19 for a prolonged time. This includes living with, visiting, or sharing a closed space with the infected person. The health departments identify close contacts through what is known as contact tracing.


Isolation, unlike quarantine, is when a person confirmed to have a contagious disease has to be separated from healthy individuals around them. This is done to prevent the spread of infection among the common masses. This may be done in hospitals or self-isolation under supervision.

Isolation versus Quarantine:

While isolation achieves the same purpose as quarantine, it is only for those who are infected or are confirmed cases of COVID-19. Quarantine lasts for the duration of the upper limit of the incubation period of the virus, which is 14 days in this case. However, isolation lasts until the individual is free of symptoms and tests negative for the virus.

What should you do in quarantine or isolation?

  • If you are within the limits of your home, do not leave unless it is necessary.
  • Do not attend functions, school, churches or temples.
  • There is no evidence that Coronavirus can spread to your pets.
  • Keep your plates, glasses, cups, spoons, towels, and bedding separate.
  • Do not swap any of these items unwashed.
  • Frequent hand washing is a must.
  • Hygiene is a very integral part of quarantine. Wash your hands for twenty seconds with soap and water frequently. Use your elbow to cough or sneeze into or use a tissue and immediately throw it in a covered dustbin.
  • While it is natural to feel anxious and scared, being educated about your situation is a great way to combat anxiety.
  • Following the quarantine process and other public health mandates play a big role in preventing and slowing the spread of contagious diseases.


Social distancing means any measures taken to increase physical space between people to slow or prevent the spread of the virus. This involves avoiding public gatherings, limiting the number of visitors to your home, staying at home more often, keeping a safe distance from other people and catching up with friends and family virtually instead of in person.

If you have to be around people, maintain a distance of 2 meters or 6 feet from others around you as much as possible. Not just mass gatherings, but even shopping malls, stadiums, and movie theatres can make you a target.

Other common terminologies explained:

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENTS (PPEs): PPE works as a barrier between an individual’s skin, mouth, nose, or eyes and viral and bacterial infections. Infection prevention and control measures include, among other measures: hand hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and waste management materials.

PPEs consist of clothes placed to protect the health care workers or any other persons to get infected.
These usually consist of standard precautions: gloves, mask, gown, goggles, face shield, coverall, head & shoe cover and rubber boots. The characteristics of these products will be described in the sections below.

HAND SANITIZERS: are used to decrease infectious organisms on the hands. They are available as liquids, gels, and foams. Formulations of alcohol-based versions are preferable to hand washing with soap and water in most situations in the healthcare setting. Alcohol-based versions typically contain some combination of isopropyl alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol), or n-propanol, with versions containing 60% to 95% alcohol the most effective.

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