Covid-19 is not considered a High Consequence Infectious Disease – but it is still vital to observe lockdown

Covid-19 is not considered a High Consequence Infectious Disease – but it is still vital to observe lockdown
The Covid-19 coronavirus is no longer considered a HCID - here's what that means (Photo: Shutterstock)

The UK government no longer classifies coronavirus as a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID), but this doesn’t mean it’s safe to resume normal life quite yet.

In January 2020, public health officials in the UK designated Covid-19 a HCID, using the information they had access to in the early stages of the country’s outbreak.

However, the experts have now reconsidered that definition and, as of 19 March 2020, Covid-19 is no longer considered to be a HCID.

This decision was based on a review of the most up to date information we now have about the nature of the coronavirus strain, and how it spreads.

What is a HCID?

A HCID in the UK is defined according to the following criteria:

  • acute infectious disease
  • typically has a high case-fatality rate
  • may not have effective prophylaxis or treatment
  • often difficult to recognise and detect rapidly
  • ability to spread in the community and within healthcare settings
  • requires an enhanced individual, population and system response to ensure it is managed effectively, efficiently and safely

HCIDs are then further classified into two groups – contact and airborne HCIDs. The former are spread by direct contact with an infected patient or infected tissues, fluids and other materials – or indirect contact with contaminated materials and fomites (objects or materials which are likely to carry infection).

The latter are spread by aerosol transmission or respiratory droplets in addition to the contact routes of transmission.

Why is coronavirus no longer considered a HCID?

UK public health officials have determined that several features of the Covid-19 coronavirus have changed in the interim between January and March, meaning the virus no longer matches enough HCID criteria to be considered one.

More information is now available about mortality rates, showing that they are low, overall. There is also greater clinical awareness about the virus and a sensitive and specific laboratory test which is becoming increasingly available to those infected.

The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) also confirmed that Covid-19 should no longer be classified as a HCID.

Does this mean coronavirus is no longer dangerous?

In spite of this change in classification, the government has reiterated that the need to have a national, coordinated response to the virus still remains, in order to save thousands of lives.

This means every individual in the UK must follow the instructions given by the government to minimise the spread of coronavirus. These instructions are:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

By observing lockdown rules and staying in your home as much as possible, you’re ensuring the safety of thousands of vulnerable and elderly people across the country.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms? 

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath – but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell. 

What precautions can be taken?

Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Government advice

As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.

All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.

Children of separated parents can go between both parents’ homes.

Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.

The government has now instructed bars, restaurants,  theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.

The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake “shielding” for 12 weeks.

For more information on government advice, please check their website.

Should I avoid public places?

You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

Only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

When to call NHS 111

Only call NHS 111 if you can’t get help online and feel very unwell. This should be used if you feel extremely ill with coronavirus symptoms. If you have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus please use the online service.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS