General information on the virus

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person. Droplet infection is the main mode of transmission. This can take place directly, from person-to-person, or indirectly through contact between hands and the mucous membranes of the mouth, the nose or the conjunctiva of the eyes.  There have been reports of persons who were infected by individuals who had only shown slight or non-specific symptoms of disease. The percentage of asymptomatic cases is unclear; according to data from WHO and China, however, such cases do not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.


What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2?

The disease progression varies considerably from one person to another.  According to WHO, a SARS-CoV-2 infection can lead to symptoms such as dry cough, fever, a runny nose and fatigue. There have also been reports of difficulties breathing, an itchy throat, headaches and joint pains, as well as shivering. Some patients also suffer from nausea and diarrhoea.


How can I protect myself?

As with influenza and other acute respiratory illnesses, proper hand hygiene, coughing and sneezing practices, as well as keeping one’s distance from sick persons, can also help prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. These practices are also recommended in view of the flu outbreak. Shaking hands should be avoided. Generally, persons suffering from a respiratory illness should stay at home if possible.


What should you do if you feel sick and think you might have been infected?

Persons who (independently of travel) were in personal contact with someone who has been laboratory-confirmed to be carrying the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus should immediately, irrespective of symptoms, get in touch with the competent health office. The health office will conduct an individual interview to assess the specific risk and determine the measures to be taken. This approach also makes it possible to coordinate medical attention should any symptoms emerge.

Berlin, Hannover and Hamburg have created special hotlines to call if you think you have been infected.for information and counseling. The Berlin hotline can be reached from 08:00 am to 08:00 pm at 0049 30 9028 2828, for Hannover please call 0049 511 4505555 and for Hamburg please call 0049 40 428 284 000.

People who have spent time in a risk area as identified by the Robert Koch Institute should, irrespective of symptoms, avoid unnecessary contact with other people and stay at home, wherever possible. Should you experience acute respiratory symptoms, you will need to follow proper coughing and sneezing etiquette as well as proper hand hygiene and see a doctor, making sure you have called ahead to announce your visit and provide information regarding the places visited.

If you are travelling from a region where cases of COVID-19 have occurred, but it is not deemed a risk area, you should visit a doctor – after announcing your visit ahead of time by telephone and saying that you had been travelling – if you develop symptoms such as fever, coughing or difficult breathing within 14 days of returning from your trip. In addition, you should avoid unnecessary contact with other people, stay at home, wherever possible, and follow proper coughing and sneezing etiquette as well as proper hand hygiene.


The current risk areas are as identified by the Robert Koch Institute (as of March 11):



In China: Hubei Province (incl. Wuhan City)

In South Korea: Gyeongsangbuk-do Province (North Gyeongsang)

In France: Grand Est region (this region includes Alsace, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne)

In Austria: State of Tirol

In Spain: Madrid

In USA: California, Washington and New York

This definition is constantly being adjusted as the situation evolves.


Other precautions you should take if you feel sick include:
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Ensure you do not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. If you have easy access to surgical face masks, use one, and dispose of it safely after use. Remember to wash your hands after disposing of a mask.
  • Follow appropriate disinfection/hand washing rules to avoid spreading the virus to others.


Current situation in the EU (including Germany)

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is in continuous contact with the European Commission, the public health authorities in China and the World Health Organization regarding the assessment of this outbreak.

Currently, the risk associated with the Coronavirus in the EU/EEA and UK is still only considered moderate to high. The evidence from analyses of most recent cases that the virus causes mild disease (i.e. non-pneumonia or mild pneumonia) in about 80% and most cases recover fully. In 14 % of the reported cases, people have more severe disease and only 6% experience critical illness.  

Please be aware that the great majority of the most severe illnesses, and deaths, have occurred only among the elderly and those with other chronic underlying conditions.

For up-to-date information and news on the outbreak and risk assessment in your area of residence, please refer to the website of the Federal Ministry of Health. The Federal Ministry of Health is continuously monitoring the situation, evaluating all available information, estimating the risk for the population in Germany and providing health professionals with recommendations. Further information can be found on the website of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the public health institute in Germany.

For any further information from GISMA on the outbreak, please refer to our frequently asked questions