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What is COVID-19? What is a Corona virus?

Last update: 13 April 2020, 21:00

Difference between Coronavirus and COVID-19

First to stop the confusing, there is a difference between “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19”. And there is also a difference between the “disease” and the “virus” that is causing the disease.

Coronaviruses are a group of related viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that can be mild, such as some cases of the common cold (among other possible causes, predominantly rhinoviruses), and others that can be lethal, such as SARS, MERS, and COVID-19. Symptoms in other species vary: in chickens, they cause an upper respiratory tract disease, while in cows and pigs they cause diarrhea. There are yet to be vaccines or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat human coronavirus infections.

The name Coronavirus

The name coronavirus is derived from the Latin corona, meaning “crown” or “halo”, which refers to the characteristic appearance reminiscent of a crown or a solar corona around the virions (virus particles) when viewed under two-dimensional transmission electron microscopy, due to the surface covering in club-shaped protein spikes.

Coronavirus outbreaks

Over the past 17 years we’ve had five Coronavirus outbreaks.

The most recent one is the disease COVID-19 which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. SARS-CoV-2 has close genetic similarity to bat coronaviruses, from which it likely originated but this is not sure yet.

Some terminology explained

  • COVID-19 is the abbreviation of Coronavirus Disease 2019.
  • SARS is the abbreviation of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
  • MERS is the abbreviation of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.


  • Coronaviruses are a group of related diseases
  • COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) is a (coronavirus) disease
  • SARS-CoV-2 is the in 2019 identified virus that causes the disease COVID-19 and has a lot of similarities with the virus SARS-CoV
  • SARS-CoV is the in 2003 identified virus that caused SARS in 2003
  • SARS is a disease caused by SARS-CoV


Symptoms COVID-19

The symptoms of COVID-19

Symptom Percentage
Fever 87.9%
Dry cough 67.7%
Fatigue 38.1%
Sputum production 33.4%
Shortness of breath 18.6%
Muscle pain or joint pain 14.8%
Sore throat 13.9%
Headache 13.6%
Chills 11.4%
Nausea or vomiting 5.0%
Nasal congestion 4.8%
Diarrhea 3.7%
Haemoptysis 0.9%
Conjunctival congestion 0.8%

Emergency call

In case you have multiple symptoms and when you have difficulties with breathing and signs of suffocation you have to call the SAMU-Center. Just call “15” with your French phone number, this is the national medical emergency line.

Important to keep in mind is that France uses the European emergency number “112” and also uses multiple numbers for specific problems, the most important are listed below:

  • “15” – medical emergency (SAMU-centre)
  • “17” – police (Police Nationale)
  • “18” or “112” – fire brigade (Les Sapeurs Pompiers)
  • “115” – social emergency
  • “119” – abused children
  • “116000” – missing children
  • “114” – National centre for emergency calls for users with disabilities

Who is considered an “at risk” person?

The High Council for Public Health (HCSP) considers that the people at risk of developing a serious form of SARS-CoV-2 infection are the following:

  • people aged 70 and over (even if patients between 50 and 70 should be monitored more closely);
  • patients with dialyzed chronic renal failure, NYHA III or IV stage heart failure
  • at least stage B cirrhosis
  • patients with a cardiovascular history (ATCD): arterial hypertension, ATCD of stroke or coronary artery disease, cardiac surgery;
  • insulin-dependent diabetics or with complications secondary to their pathology (micro or macro angiopathy);
  • chronic respiratory failure under oxygen therapy or asthma or cystic fibrosis or any chronic respiratory pathology likely to decompensate during a viral infection;
  • people with immunosuppression:
    • medicinal products: anti-cancer chemotherapy, immunosuppressant, biotherapy and / or corticotherapy at immunosuppressive dose,
    • uncontrolled HIV infection with CD4 <200 / min3
    • following a solid organ or hematopoietic stem cell transplant,
    • suffering from malignant hemopathy during treatment,
    • with metastasized cancer.
  • Pregnant women from the 3rd trimester
  • People with morbid obesity (body mass index> 40kg / m2: by analogy with influenza A (H1N1)

As with many infectious diseases, people with chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes), the elderly (over 70), immunocompromised or frail are at higher risk. In more severe cases, the disease can lead to death.

What can I do to protect myself from getting infected?

How is COVID-19 transmitted?

The disease is transmitted by postillions (sneezing, coughing). It is therefore considered that close contact with a sick person is necessary to transmit the disease: same place of life, direct contact within a meter during a cough, sneeze or a discussion in the absence of protective measures. One of the preferred vectors for the transmission of the virus is contact with unwashed hands.

What is the incubation period of COVID-19?

The incubation period, the period between contamination and the onset of the first symptoms. The COVID-19 coronavirus incubation period is 3 to 5 days in general, but it can be up to 14 days. During this period, the subject can be contagious: he can carry the virus before the onset of symptoms or at the onset of weak signals.

What can I do to prevent myself and others?

  • Keep at least 1 meter of distance between you and other people
  • Wash your hands very regularly
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or into a tissue
  • Greet without shaking hands, avoid kissing
  • Use and dispose of single-use tissues
  • Avoid gatherings, limit travel and contacts.

Preventive measures

On March 16, 2020, the President of the Republic decided to take measures to minimise contact and travel. A containment system is in place throughout the territory from Tuesday, March 17 at 12:00 p.m., for a minimum of fifteen (15) days. Travel is prohibited except in the following cases and only if you have a certificate for:

  • Travel from home to work when telework is not possible or professional displacements that cannot be deferred;
  • Travel to make essential purchases in authorised local shops, such as supplies necessary for professional activity, basic necessities (including free acquisitions, such as food);
  • Travel to receive social benefits and the withdrawal of cash, in establishments that are authorised to stay open;
  • Go to a health professional, including consultations and care that cannot be provided remotely or deferred, including care of patients with long-term conditions;
  • Travel for childcare;
  • Travel for compelling family reasons and for assistance to vulnerable people with the strict condition of respecting barrier gestures;
  • Short trips, maximum of one hour daily and within a maximum radius of one kilometer around your residence address, meant for individual exercise or the needs of pets.
  • In addition to the previous bullet, It’s not allowed to participate in any collective exercise groups or activities, practise individual exercise in the vicinity of others and/or walking with others (including people that resident at the same address)
  • Travel for judicial or administrative reasons, with proof
  • Participation in missions of general interest at the request of the administrative authority.

The two documents necessary to circulate

Violations of these rules will be punished with a progressive fine, starting with 135 euros. If in doubt about these travel restrictions, you can consult the (French) Questions and Answers infographic from the French authorities. Click here

Official documents to travel during the lockdown in France

In some cases you are allowed to leave your residence, see the bullet “Preventive Measures”.

The two documents necessary to circulate

Translation of the fields in the document “attestation de déplacement dérogatoire”

This is what you need to fill in and select on the form.

  • Mme / M.: Your Full Name (first name and surname)
  • Né(e) le: Your day of birth (day/month/year)
  • À: Your place of birth (city and country)
  • Demeurant: Your full address (house number, street, postal code and place)

Select the reason of your trip:

  • Déplacements entre le domicile et le lieu d’exercice de l’activité professionnelle, lorsqu’ils sont indispensables à l’exercice d’activités ne pouvant être organisées sous forme de télétravail ou déplacements professionnels ne pouvant être différés

Trips between your place of residence and the place of exercise of the professional activity, only when they are essential for the exercise of activities that cannot be organised in the form of telework (on permanent proof) or professional trips that cannot be deferred. This can be used for the self-employed;

  • Déplacements pour effectuer des achats de fournitures nécessaires à l’activité professionnelle et des achats de première nécessité dans des établissements dont les activités demeurent autorisées (liste sur

Trips to make essential purchases (pharmacy, groceries, goods necessary for your professional activity) in authorised stores, list should be available on Government website, however we haven’t found it yet. Please use common sense and only visit the most nearby store for your essential goods.

  • Consultations et soins ne pouvant être assurés à distance et ne pouvant être différés ; consultations et soins des patients atteints d’une affection de longue durée.

Medical trips, such as hospital or doctor. Consultations and care that cannot be provided remotely and that cannot be deferred; consultations and care of patients with a long-term condition

  • déplacements pour motif familial impérieux, pour l’assistance aux personnes vulnérables ou la garde d’enfants ;

Trips for imperative family reasons and assistance to vulnerable persons or childcare.

  • Déplacements brefs, dans la limite d’une heure quotidienne et dans un rayon maximal d’un kilomètre autour du domicile, liés soit à l’activité physique individuelle des personnes, à l’exclusion de toute pratique sportive collective et de toute proximité avec d’autres personnes, soit à la promenade avec les seules personnes regroupées dans un même domicile, soit aux besoins des animaux de compagnie.

Short trips for individual exercise close, within one kilometer radius and for a maximum duration of one hour, to your home, without partner or collective sporting groups. Also for a walk with your pet.

  • Convocation judiciaire ou administrative.

Judicial or administrative summons.

  • Participation à des missions d’intérêt général sur demande de l’autorité administrative.

Participation in missions of general interest at the request of the administrative authority.

And last but not least:

  • Fait à: The place where you signed this document)
  • le: Day/Month/Year
  • à: note the hour of leaving your house
  • h: note the minute of leaving your house
  • Signature: Place your signature below. Now you’re ready to go!

You need to fill in this document for every trip/day that you need to leave the house during the lockdown.

Please keep in mind that you need to take this very serious and limit your movement as much as possible. The more you stay at home, the sooner the spread is under control and things can get back to normal!

Translation of the fields in the document “Justificatif de déplacement professionnel”

This is what you need to fill in on the document:

  • Je soussigné(e),: Your full name
  • Nom prénom de l’employeur: Full name of your employer
  • Fonctions: Your official job position that can be proven with a contract
  • Nom: Your family name/surname
  • Prénom: Your first name
  • Date de naissance: Your date of birth (day/month/year)
  • Adresse du domicile: Your residence address in France (house number, street, postal code, place)
  • Nature de l’activité professionnelle: What is the category/nature of your professional activity?
  • Lieux d’exercise de l’activité professionnelle: What is the place of work for this specific trip, so where do you need to go to.
  • Moyen de déplacement: What is the reason of this essential work related trip? Why can’t this be performed from home or postponed until after the lockdown.
  • Durée de validité: How long/until which date is the permission/authorisation from your employer valid? The validation period is determined by your employer. There is therefore no need to renew it every day.

The last section:

  • Nom et cachet de l’employeur

Your employer’s name and their stamp/signature.

And last but not least:

  • Fait à: The place where you signed this document
  • Le: Day, Month and Year
  • Place your signature below. Now you’re ready to go!

Please keep in mind that you need to take this very serious and limit your movement as much as possible. The more you stay at home, the sooner the spread is under control and things can get back to normal!

Where do I find official information about the situation in (the South of) France?

All updates and relevant information regarding the situation in France can be found on the official French government website: it’s also available in English here:

There is also a 24/7 toll-free hotline available (only in French) to answer your questions about the Coronavirus COVID-19 via: 0 800 130 000. They cannot give you medical advise. If you have signs of an infection you can call “15” or send a text to “114”.

Useful links


Interactive COVID-19 tracker
Official French Government (FRENCH)
Official French Government (ENGLISH)
Download FAQ (French)
Download travel document PDF (private)
Download travel document WORD (private)
Download travel document PDF (workers)
Download travel document Word (workers)
Generate travel document online


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