Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in people and animals. They can cause the common cold or more severe diseases, such as COVID-19. COVID-19 refers to the “coronavirus disease 2019” and is a disease that can affect the lungs and airways. It is caused by a type of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is lower case unless at the start of a sentence. Refer to “the coronavirus (COVID-19)” in the first instance of each section of your article or bulletin.

“Coronavirus” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the virus and the pandemic in general. It should also include the article “the”. For example, “the coronavirus pandemic” and “effects of the coronavirus on the economy”.

“COVID-19” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the specific disease. For example, “there was an increase in registered deaths involving COVID-19”.

Questionnaires and respondent materials should use “coronavirus (COVID-19)” for all instances.

Deaths and COVID-19

We need to be clear when talking about deaths and the coronavirus (COVID-19) whether the disease was the underlying cause of death or not. Use the phrases “deaths caused by COVID-19” or “COVID-19 deaths” only when referring to deaths with an underlying cause of death as COVID-19.

Use the phrase “deaths involving COVID-19” when referring to deaths that had COVID-19 mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, whether as underlying cause or not. 

Outbreak or pandemic?

Use the term “pandemic” when referring to COVID-19 rather than “outbreak”. A pandemic is where a disease is prevalent over a whole country or the world and so is more accurate than outbreak, which refers to increases of a disease in a particular time or place. The World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.


Lockdown is the shutting down of all non-essential activities to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the UK, this has seen strict limits imposed on daily life, including:

  • people ordered to only leave the house for essentials such as food, medicine, exercise or to care for a vulnerable person
  • the closure of non-essential shops
  • the banning of mass gatherings of more than two people

The UK lockdown was applied on 23 March 2020. This has formed the basis for each nations’ stay at home guidance. Specific stay at home guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is available.

Stay at home should be written in sentence case in line with GOV.UK.

Social distancing and self-isolation

Social distancing

Social distancing refers to the measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people. Social distancing has been introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other. 


A more severe form of social distancing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 is self-isolation. Someone who is unwell will separate themselves from healthy people for seven days to stop the disease from spreading. Anyone living with symptomatic people should self-isolate for 14 days because of the virus’ incubation period. 


Similar to lockdown, quarantine is a period of isolation that prevents the movement of people to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some areas of northern Italy were placed into quarantine in an attempt to contain COVID-19. 

More information about how to refer to different events and time periods in the pandemic is available.

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