New coronavirus: Disease, symptoms, treatment

What are the symptoms of COVID-19, and how might the illness progress? Can it be treated? What do you have to beware of if you have symptoms? And where did the new coronavirus first appear? Find out here.

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.

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

If you have one or more of the more common symptoms, it is quite possible that you have contracted the new coronavirus. Read the instructions under What to do in the event of symptoms and possible infection and then follow them closely.

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 5 % of those who have tested positive for the disease subsequently die of the illness.


At the moment there is no specific treatment for the disease caused by the coronavirus. Treatment is limited to easing the symptoms.

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


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 of the new coronavirus in Switzerland is currently around 5 %.

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.

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.

Medical practices and hospitals have put in place the necessary precautionary measures to protect their patients safely. You can therefore use their services without fear of infection.

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.

Further information

Situation in Switzerland

Cases of coronavirus infections and deaths, epidemiological situation, search for antibodies, advisory body, press conferences, news

Contact information and links

New coronavirus: Infoline phone numbers, links to federal and cantonal authorities, and other useful websites

Downloads in various languages

Information campaign ‘Protect yourself and others’: posters, videos and instructions in different languages, incl. those of Switzerland’s migrant population

Last modification 31.07.2020

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We are unable to respond to enquiries related to COVID-19 in writing.

Please refer instead to our webpages, which are continuously updated.

Under Contacts and links you will find contact information for the FOPH, other federal agencies and the cantons.

+41 58 463 00 00

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