Coronavirus: Disease, symptoms, treatment

How is the new coronavirus transmitted? What are the symptoms of COVID-19, and how might the illness progress? What do I have to beware of if I have symptoms? And where did the new coronavirus first appear? Find out here.

Transmission of the new coronavirus

The virus spreads most frequently when people are in close, protracted contact, for example if you stay less than 1.5 metres away from someone who is infected and take no precautionary measures. The longer and closer this contact, the greater the risk of becoming infected.

The virus can be transmitted in various ways:

  • Via droplets: When an infected person breathes, talks, sneezes or coughs, droplets containing the virus can get onto the mucous membranes in the nose, mouth or eyes of other people in the immediate vicinity (less than 1.5 metres away).
  • Via aerosols: The virus can be transmitted via aerosols over both short and longer distances. This type of transmission primarily occurs in small and poorly ventilated indoor spaces where aerosols can accumulate over longer periods. This can play a particular role during activities requiring increased breathing, for example physical work, sports, loud talking, and singing. You’ll find more information on aerosols on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page.
  • Via surfaces and the hands: If infected people cough and sneeze, infectious droplets get onto their hands or nearby surfaces. Another person could then become infected if they get these droplets on their hands and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is a matter of size, and the transition is fluid.

    Symptoms of coronavirus disease

There is a very wide range of symptoms caused by the new coronavirus.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Symptoms of an acute respiratory illness (sore throat, cough (usually dry), shortness of breath, chest pain)
  • High temperature
  • Sudden loss of sense of smell and/or taste
  • Headache
  • General weakness, feeling unwell
  • Aching muscles
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach ache)
  • Head cold
  • Skin rash

Symptoms can be more or less severe and can vary depending on the virus variant. They can also be mild and even cold-like symptoms can indicate an infection. Complications, such as pneumonia, are also possible.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you might have contracted the new coronavirus. Read what to do in the event of symptoms of the disease under Isolation and quarantine and then follow the procedure closely.

Contact your doctor if you have any symptoms about which you are concerned. More information can be found under General health complaints.

You’ll find information on long-term effects of COVID-19 on the page long-term effects of COVID-19.

Range of illness severity

The way the new coronavirus disease progresses can vary widely. Some people may have no symptoms or barely notice that they are ill. Others require intensive care in hospital.

No symptoms

There are people who become infected without displaying any symptoms. They are unaware that they have become infected and can therefore pass on the new coronavirus to others without realising it.

Mild cases

A significant majority of people who become infected experience a mild form of the disease. This means they experience mild symptoms for just a few days.

Serious cases

In serious cases, the symptoms are mild at first, but deteriorate after around five to ten days. Patients may develop a persistent temperature, feel unwell and/or develop shortness of breath. This may lead to pneumonia. In such cases, the person requires hospital treatment, in many cases with supplemental oxygen.

In serious cases, the illness generally lasts two to four weeks. With proper medical treatment, patients usually make a full recovery. However, they may still feel tired, short of breath and generally weak for a long time afterwards. Scientists currently assume that a person who has had COVID-19 is immune from renewed infection for a time, although it is unclear for how long.

People can become seriously ill at any age, although it is extremely rare in children and young people. People at especially high risk are more likely to experience serious illness.

Critical cases

In a small number of people, the respiratory symptoms deteriorate to such an extent that they require intensive care; they require mechanical respiration to support the functioning of the lungs.

More than 80 % of critical cases survive the disease thanks to the timely provision of intensive care.

According to information currently available, around 1.5 % (Status: 28.12.2020) of those who have tested positive for the disease subsequently die of the illness.


Symptoms from a coronavirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because antibiotics are only effective against bacteria, not against viruses.


Vaccinations have been under way in Switzerland since January 2021. The vaccination protects you from infection with the new coronavirus. You will find detailed information on this under Vaccination.


On 11 February 2020 the WHO gave the disease caused by the new coronavirus an official name: COVID-19, short for coronavirus disease 2019.

What is the new coronavirus?

The coronavirus epidemic in China probably originated at a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where bats, snakes and other wild animals were traded alongside fish. The virus was transmitted to humans via animals, probably bats or indirectly via pangolins. Since then the virus has been transmitted from person to person. The Chinese authorities closed the market at the beginning of January.

The new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, belongs to the same family of viruses as six other known coronaviruses that we have known about for years or even decades. Four of these are human coronaviruses, which generally cause mild winter colds.

Other known coronaviruses include:

  • the SARS virus, SARS-CoV-1, identified in southern China in 2003 and transmitted to humans from civets and
  • the MERS virus, identified in 2012 on the Arabian peninsula and transmitted to humans from dromedaries.

SARS and MERS are serious acute respiratory diseases with a high rate of mortality of around 10 and 35 % respectively. By comparison, the mortality rate for the new coronavirus in Switzerland is currently around 1.5 % (Status: 26.10.2020).

Coronaviruses are enveloped RNA viruses (RNA = Ribonucleic acid). This means that they have a lipid membrane (greasy film), which can be dissolved with soap and water or disinfectant, thereby inactivating the virus.

Variants of the new coronavirus

It is normal for viruses to constantly change, resulting in random mutations. The term ‘mutation’ describes the process of change undergone by a virus. If a number of mutations arise with sufficient properties that differ from the original virus, we talk of a new variant.

While most newly emerging mutations have no great influence on the spread of a virus, some mutations or combinations of mutations can put the virus at an advantage. This could be greater transmissibility (infectiousness), for example. Variants of this sort can pose a threat to people’s health, and are therefore classified as variants of concern.

Information on the efficacy of the authorised COVID-19 vaccines with regard to the variants can be found in our FAQs.

And you will find the latest figures on the virus variants as well as further information about the individual variants at

Further information about the variants can be found on the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force website.

Omicron virus variant

The new variant, Omicron, was identified in mid-November 2021, first in Namibia and then also in South Africa, and designated a variant of concern by the WHO on 26 November. Omicron is already more or less the only variant circulating in Switzerland. Since Omicron is relatively new, many of its properties cannot yet be described conclusively. What is certain is the Omicron is much more contagious than the Delta variant. It is also assumed that severe cases of the disease occur about as often after infection with the Omicron variant as after infection with the Delta variant. This applies to people who have neither been vaccinated nor recovered from COVID.

Efficacy of vaccines

All the existing vaccines were geared to the original coronavirus variant. It is clear that the vaccines currently available are less effective against the Omicron variant and that recovery from a previous infection will also provide less protection against re-infection with the new variant. However, part of the protection against severe disease from the Omicron variant is maintained after a prior infection or after vaccination. This protection can be significantly increased again with a booster vaccination. For this reason, vaccination or a booster vaccination is now strongly recommended. Vaccines specifically adapted to Omicron are not expected to be available until the third quarter of 2022. It therefore does not make sense at the moment to wait for this option.

However, vaccination alone will not be enough to slow the very rapid and intensive spread of the Omicron variant. It is therefore important that you follow the rules on hygiene and social distancing more closely again.

General health complaints

Are you feeling unwell or experiencing a severe or persistent health complaint that you don’t believe is related to the new coronavirus? Are you worried? Then contact your doctor. Seek medical advice or treatment. This is important for your health. That also applies for your children or other family members.

Do not delay if you or someone close to you has a mild complaint or one that is getting worse. Contact your doctor. Call ahead if you want to go directly to a hospital.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Answers to frequently asked questions concerning disease, symptoms and treatment can be found here.

Further information

People at especially high risk

Dangerous underlying medical conditions and how to handle them, visits to care homes

Isolation and quarantine

What to do in the event of symptoms and following contact with an infected person, information on isolation and quarantine and recommendations for symptomatic children


All about the COVID-19 vaccination.


Testing strategy, coverage of the costs of tests, overview of the different types of tests, when to get tested, and where to get tested

Last modification 06.01.2022

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Infoline Coronavirus
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