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Facts about novel coronavirus COVID-19

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The novel coronavirus COVID-19 was discovered in January 2020. New knowledge about the outbreak, the disease and risks will be regularly updated.

Foto: CDC, Alissa Eckert
Foto: CDC, Alissa Eckert

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 was discovered in January 2020. New knowledge about the outbreak, the disease and risks will be regularly updated.

About the outbreak

A previously unknown coronavirus has caused an ongoing outbreak of respiratory illness in Wuhan in the Hubei Province, China. The outbreak began in December 2019 and the Chinese health authorities identified the virus on 7 January, 2020.

The new virus is called the 2019-novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and can cause respiratory infection in humans. The disease appears to be mild in many cases but severe cases have been reported, with some fatalities.

The majority of infected people have connections to Wuhan, a city with 11 million inhabitants in central China. Initially, the infection was linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, with seafood and various species of live animals, indicating that the infection may have originated from animals.

The disease transmits between humans and transmission to health professionals and close contacts has been reported. New cases from other Chinese cities and other countries are being reported regularly.

For updated information about the outbreak, see:

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020. The declaration is intended to strengthen the co-ordination of efforts to prevent further spread of the disease. 

What is the Norwegian Institute of Public Health's role?

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is closely monitoring the situation. We receive daily updates through various international networks, disseminate this information out to others, and advise the national authorities, the health service and other stakeholders on which infection control measures should be implemented in different situations. The laboratory at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has analysis for rapid detection of the virus.

Information and advice will be adjusted and updated according to the outbreak's development and knowledge of the infection.

Areas with presumed ongoing transmission of coronavirus COVID-19

Currently, mainland China is an area with ongoing transmission.  

In other countries with confirmed cases, there is limited or no domestic transmission and these are considered not to be areas with ongoing transmission.

About the virus

The new corona virus was a previously unknown virus but it has some genetic similarities to the SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Both viruses belong to the coronavirus family. The virus that causes MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is another coronavirus. 

It is assumed to be transmitted by droplets and by contact like other coronaviruses. 

The coronavirus family includes many different viruses that can cause respiratory infection. Many coronaviruses only cause colds, while others can cause more serious illness and in some cases, death. Coronaviruses are also detected in animals. In rare cases, these coronaviruses can develop so they can transmit from animals to humans and between humans. This was seen during the SARS epidemic in 2002 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), where the infection probably came from bats via civet cats and other animals, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012, where dromedary camels were the source of infection for the virus.


As with colds and influenza, the virus is transmitted from the respiratory tract of a sick person in three ways;

  • Airborne through sneezing or coughing, so the virus is inhaled or comes into contact with the mucosa of the eyes, nose or mouth of people nearby
  • By direct contact when the virus is on the hands and transmitted to others
  • By indirect contact when the virus is transmitted onto objects by sneezing or coughing, or by the sick person having the virus on their hands, and others then touch the object.


There is no confirmed information about incubation time (from infection until symptoms appear) but is estimated to be between 2 to 14 days.

Symptoms and disease

The new coronavirus causes respiratory infection that can range from mild symptoms to more severe illness. Fever is the most common symptom. A sore throat has been reported in people with mild illness. Some people have been diagnosed with pneumonia with breathing difficulties and / or cough, possibly with pulmonary infiltrates on X-rays. Severe pulmonary failure and fatalities have occurred. Information about risk factors among the sick is currently limited, but it appears that the cases of severe illness and fatalities occur primarily among those with an underlying medical condition or advanced age.

There is no specific treatment for the disease..

Pregnancy and risk of infection

Pregnant women may be at increased risk of more serious cases of certain viral infections if they are infected, for example in the case of influenza. We do not yet know if this is the case for COVID-19. 

Coronavirus is a group of viruses that can cause anything from a common cold to serious diseases such as SARS and MERS. Of known coronaviruses, COVID-19 is most similar to the SARS virus that caused an outbreak in 2003. However, SARS caused more serious illness than COVID-19. During the SARS outbreak, there was concern that some pregnant women had more serious course and that infection early in pregnancy could cause miscarriage, but it was never confirmed that SARS infection caused foetal injury.

Preventive measures for this coronavirus are similar for other infectious diseases. This includes good hand and respiratory hygiene as well as avoiding unnecessary contact with people with symptoms of respiratory disease. 

Risk groups

Most people who are infected will probably have self-limiting respiratory symptoms while some may experience a more severe disease, for example pneumonia. 

With our current knowledge, it appears that the elderly (>65 years) and people with underlying chronic diseases have the highest risk of serious illness from COVID-19-infection. To date, we do not know of other risk groups. The number of children who have been reported with confirmed infection is currently low (less than 0.6%).

Preventive measures for this coronavirus are similar for other infectious diseases. This includes good hand and respiratory hygiene as well as avoiding unnecessary contact with people with symptoms of respiratory disease.  

Risk of infection in Norway

The World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) report that further global spread is likely, with the greatest risk in the countries with the most direct contact with Wuhan (i.e. countries in Asia), but also in the rest of the world, including Europe. With good compliance to infection prevention measures, especially in the health service, the risk of major spread of infection can be reduced. If cases are detected in Norway, the Norwegian health authorities will share this information.

What happens if people are infected in Norway?

People who are diagnosed with coronavirus infection will be isolated at home or in the hospital, depending on the severity of the disease.

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