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: if you stay less than 1.5 metres away from someone who is infected, without protection (protection means, for example, that both people are wearing a mask). The longer and closer this contact, the greater the chances of becoming infected.

The virus is transmitted as follows:

  • Via droplets and aerosols: When the 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).

    The virus can be transmitted over longer distances via very fine droplets (aerosols), but this does not happen often. This type of transmission is most likely to occur during activities requiring increased breathing, for example physical work, sports, loud talking, and singing. The same applies if you stay for a longer period in unventilated or poorly ventilated rooms, especially if these rooms are small. 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.

Symptoms of coronavirus disease

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

The most common symptoms are:

  • Respiratory illness symptoms (sore throat, cough (usually dry), shortness of breath, chest pain)
  • High temperature
  • Sudden loss of sense of smell and/or taste

Other symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • General weakness, feeling unwell
  • Aching muscles
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach ache)
  • Head cold
  • Skin rash

Symptoms can vary in severity and can even be mild. 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 COVID and long COVID symptoms in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

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.


For Switzerland, two COVID-19 vaccines are approved. The vaccination protects you from infection with the new coronavirus. It is still not clear whether it prevents you from infecting other people. 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’s normal for viruses to constantly change, resulting in random mutations. The term “mutation” thus 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.

To date, three variants have been classified as variants of concern:

  • Variant from the UK: B.1.1.7 (N501Y.V1)
  • Variant from South Africa: N501Y.V2
  • Variant from Brazil: P1 (N501Y.V3)

There are indications that these variants are significantly more contagious, meaning that the virus spreads much more rapidly than was the case for the previous variant of the new coronavirus originating in Wuhan. At present there is no evidence that any of the variants results in more severe symptoms or more fatalities.

According to the latest findings, the COVID-19 vaccination is also effective against the variant from the UK. As for the variants from South Africa and Brazil, effects on the efficacy of the authorised vaccines cannot be ruled out at the current time. The situation is being monitored closely and any findings will be published as soon as they are available.

At you will find up-to-date figures for the virus variants.

You will find more information on the variants on the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force website.

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 COVID-19 vaccination: registering, goals of vaccination, who should be vaccinated, vaccination recommendations, vaccination costs and information on vaccines.


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 29.03.2021

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