What is known so far about COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses which are common across the world in animals and humans. Certain types cause illnesses in people. Some cause the common cold, others cause diseases which are much more severe such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), both of which often lead to pneumonia. 


COVID-19 is the illness seen in people infected with a new strain of coronavirus not previously seen in humans. 


On 31 December 2019, Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, which was later classified as a new disease: COVID-19. 


On 30 January 2020, WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” (PHEIC). 


Based on current evidence, the main symptoms of COVID-19 are a cough, a high temperature and, in severe cases, shortness of breath. 


As it is a new virus, the lack of immunity in the population (and the absence as yet of an effective vaccine) means that COVID-19 has the potential to spread extensively. The current data seems to show that we are all susceptible to catching this disease, and thus it is also more likely than not that the all countries will be significantly affected. 


Among those who become infected, some will exhibit no symptoms. Early data suggest that of those who develop an illness, the great majority will have a mild-to-moderate, but self-limiting illness – similar to seasonal flu. 


It is, however, also clear that a minority of people who get COVID-19 will develop complications severe enough to require hospital care, most often pneumonia. In a small proportion of these, the illness may be severe enough to lead to death. 


So far, the data we have suggest that the risk of severe disease and death increases among elderly people and in people with underlying health risk conditions (in the same way as for seasonal flu). 


Illness is less common and usually less severe in younger adults. Children can be infected and can have a severe illness, but based on current data, overall illness seems rarer in people under 20 years of age. 


So far, there has been no obvious sign that pregnant women are more likely to be seriously affected. 


Given that the data are still emerging, governments are uncertain of the impact of an outbreak on business. In a stretching scenario, it is possible that up to one-fifth of employees may be absent from work during peak weeks. This may vary for individual businesses. 


They do not yet have entirely complete data on this disease. But as they learn more about the virus, its effects and its behaviour (for example, the timing and extent of the peak of an outbreak, its precise impact on individuals), they will be able to revise estimates of its potential spread, severity and impact. They will then review, and (where necessary) adapt their plan accordingly. 


Work is in hand to contain the spread of the virus. This includes extensive guidance provided to individuals returning from areas where there are cases being reported, and encouraging self-isolation as the primary means to contain the spread of the disease. Given that there is currently neither a vaccine against COVID-19 nor any specific, proven, antiviral medication, most treatment will therefore be towards managing symptoms and providing support to patients with complications. 


The majority of people with COVID-19 have recovered without the need for any specific treatment, as is the case for the common cold or seasonal flu. We expect that the vast majority of cases will best be managed at home, again as with seasonal colds and flu. 


The virus has an oily outer shell which is destroyed by soap or hand wash/gel. Washing your hands, work surfaces, keyboards, phones etc. kills the virus. It is spread in droplets in the air caused by sneezing or coughing and by physical contact with infected humans or places that they have touched. It enters your body through your breathing and through all soft membranes, normally as we touch our face (eyes, nose and mouth) or as we visit the toilet and touch our genitals.

The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands as often as you can, for at least 20 seconds with soap. Try to not touch your face (although this is very much a subconscious involuntary action so may not be possible). Stay at least 2 meters away from other people. Do not travel if possible. 


Wash your hands video 

What to do if you have symptoms 

The government has advised you to stay at home for 7 days if you have either: 

  • a high temperature 
  • a new continuous cough 

if you live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms. 

This will help to protect others in your community while you are infectious. 

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. 

You do not need to contact NHS 111 to tell them you’re staying at home. 

Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you’re staying at home. 

Financial Support
The Scottish Government has announced a package of £320 million to support businesses with the impact of COVID-19. We expect details to be finalised in the coming days outlining how businesses can access this support. 

For employees and the self employed

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
SSP is normally paid from the pocket of your employer and is not paid for the first three days of absence. The rate that is paid out is very small compared to wages. SSP is also not paid to employees who earn less than £118 per week or to the self-employed. This system is likely to discourage people who have symptoms from self-isolating, because they cannot afford to lose wages. 

On 15th March 2020 the Scottish Government changed the rules for anyone in Scotland who themselves have a high temperature (above 37.8) and persistent cough, or has been in contact with anyone who has. They will need to self-isolate and will be paid SSP from the first day of self-isolation for up to two weeks. The cost of this SSP will be refunded to their employer. The Scottish government has also removed the £118 per week earnings floor limit and are will now pay SSP to the self-employed. 

Local Hardship Fund
The Scottish Government have also made a hardship fund available, through your local authority, to help the worst affected, financially, by this virus. This may also be used to help with council tax.

There has been business rates relief offered to small and medium sized businesses but as yet, there has been no mention of council tax relief. There has been agreement that HMRC will be sensitive when collecting business taxes and will, where relevant, offer time to pay. There has been no mention as yet of this for council tax. 

What about small and medium sized local businesses
The first measure of support is that Small and medium sized local businesses are able to claim back up to two weeks Statutory Sick Pay that is paid to employees who are absent because of COVID-19. 

The Westminster government abruptly advised everyone to stay away from pubs, restaurants and theatres etc. and caused a panic in the hospitality industry. To prevent this sector’s meltdown, they were forced into offering support in the form of up to 100% business rates relief. This means that businesses in the hospitality sector will not be paying business rates for 1 year. 

The Scottish government extended this to all small businesses and to ensure that the smallest of businesses (who don’t currently pay business rates) don’t miss out, they have funded your local authority to deliver a one off £3,000 grant. 

The Scottish government has managed to secure agreement from mortgage lenders that they will give mortgage payment holidays to mortgage payers who are struggling to pay their mortgage as a direct result of COVID-19. They have also been working with the Scottish Association of Landlords and have agreement that landlords will be lenient, understanding and sensitive to their tenants who are unable to pay rents as a direct consequence of COVID-19. The English Westminster government were unable gain agreement and have imposed a ban on all evictions for six months. No help has currently been offered to landlords. 

There has also been agreement from the banks that Business Interruption Loans will be made available to small and medium sized Scottish business who run into financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19. 80% of these loans will be underwritten by the government. You will be required to repay this loan but where the loan is not repaid, the bank will still be repaid by the government for 80% of the loan. This reduces the risk to the bank and will make them more likely to offer these in the current risky climate. 

These measures are a start but do not go anywhere near far enough. We do expect far more support to be announced over the coming days and months.