Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks
On this page
- How COVID-19 spreads
- Difference between quarantine (self-isolation) and isolation
- Preventing COVID-19
- Risks of getting COVID-19
- False and misleading claims
How COVID-19 spreads
COVID-19 most commonly spreads from an infected person to another person through the following.
- Close contact: Breathing in someone's respiratory droplets after they cough, sneeze, laugh or sing.
- Contaminated surfaces: Touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Common greetings: Handshakes, hugs or kisses.
Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate
People are asked to self-isolate or isolate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. Although these two words sound the same, there's an important difference.
If you have no symptoms and any of the following apply to you, you must quarantine for 14 days (starting from the date you arrive in Canada):
- you're returning from travel outside of Canada (mandatory quarantine)
- you're travelling to a province or territory that's enforcing 14-day quarantine for all inter-provincial travellers
- you had close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19
- you've been told by the public health authority that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine
You must isolate if any of the following apply:
- you've been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are waiting to hear the results of a lab test for COVID-19
- you have symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild
- you've been in contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19
- you've been told by public health that you may have been exposed to COVID-19
- you've returned from travel outside Canada with symptoms of COVID-19 (mandatory)
Keep yourself and others safe
Canadians should continue to think ahead about the actions that they can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. Measures to reduce COVID-19 in your community are especially important as some areas begin to lift restrictions.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within communities and across the country, all Canadians are advised to:
- avoid closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact
- stay home and away from others if you feel sick
- stick to a small and consistent social circle and avoid gathering in large groups
- talk to your employer about working at home if possible
- limit contact with people at higher risk, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems
- go outside to exercise
- keep a distance of at least 2 arms lengths (approximately 2 metres) from others
- household contacts (people you live with) don't need to distance from each other unless they're sick or have travelled in the last 14 days
Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
Maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene are very important personal practices that help reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- When coughing or sneezing:
- cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
- dispose of any tissues you've used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands immediately afterwards
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Together, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other. Physical distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak.
This means making changes in your everyday routines to minimize close contact with others, including:
- avoiding crowded places and non-essential travel
- avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes
- limiting contact with people at higher risk, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems
- keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others
Wearing non-medical masks or face coverings
Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering while out in public is recommended for periods of time when it's not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings, such as:
- shopping areas
- public transportation
- stores and personal service settings
In some situations, provincial or territorial public health authorities have made it mandatory to wear a non-medical mask (or face covering) in public areas. Public health officials make such recommendations based on a number of factors, including how much COVID-19 is circulating in your community. In some jurisdictions, the use of masks in many indoor public spaces and on public transit is now mandatory. You can check with your local public health authority on the requirements for your location.
Masks alone won't prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including core personal practices like frequent hand washing and physical distancing.
For more information on wearing non-medical masks and cloth face coverings, refer to the:
Cleaning and disinfecting
The COVID-19 virus is most likely to be on surfaces you frequently touch with your hands. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces to lower the chance of COVID-19 spreading in your home, workplace and public spaces.
Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19.
Special precautions must be used when cleaning with bleach to avoid serious incidents.
Caring for someone with COVID-19 at home
When caring for someone with COVID-19, follow the appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of illness.
Risks of getting COVID-19
The risk of getting COVID-19 is evolving daily and varies between and within communities. Overall, the risk to Canadians remains high. This doesn't mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there's already a significant impact on our health care system.
To stay healthy and to protect ourselves and others, we must be mindful of the ever-present risk of exposure to the virus. Some settings and situations increase the risk, such as being in:
- closed spaces with poor ventilation
- crowded places where a large number of people gather
- close contact where you can't keep 2 metres apart from others
Check if you've been exposed
Have you been on a recent flight, cruise or train trip? Check the listed exposure locations to see if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
You can also join the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 with Canada's free COVID Alert app. It notifies you if someone you were near in the past 14 days tells the app they tested positive. Download COVID Alert.
People at risk of more severe disease or outcomes
Coronaviruses can result in severe illness for some people in our communities. Those that are more at risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19 are people who:
- have an underlying medical condition
- have a weakened immune system
- are an older adult
People at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 should reconsider attending gatherings. This includes large gatherings and even smaller events in crowded or enclosed settings.
If you have symptoms, stay at home in isolation and consider getting a COVID-19 test.
If you're pregnant and concerned about COVID-19, speak to your health care provider.
Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we're still learning how it affects pregnant people. At this time, there's no evidence to suggest that pregnant people are at a greater risk:
- for more serious outcomes related to COVID-19
- of having their developing child negatively affected by COVID-19
You can protect yourself from becoming ill by taking the following precautions.
- Stay home as much as possible, except for important medical appointments.
- Make limited trips to the store for essentials.
- Avoid crowded places and peak-hours.
- Talk to your doctor, obstetrician or midwife about the possibility of telephone or videoconference appointments.
- Avoid unnecessary visitors to your home.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren't available.
- Practise physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from others.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes without washing your hands first.
- Avoid travel by public transit as much as possible.
For more information, refer to our advice on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for newborns.
The risk of getting COVID-19 may be increased for travellers. If you must travel, check the latest travel advice before you leave.
If you're a returning traveller (either travelling into Canada, or, in some instances, travelling from one province or territory to another) you'll be required to:
- quarantine (self-isolate) at home when you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and have no symptoms
- isolate yourself if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and it's possible that you've been exposed to the virus
We'll continue to adapt our risk assessment based on the latest data available.
Survival of coronaviruses on surfaces
It's not certain how long the virus survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Research suggests that the virus may live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days depending on:
- type of surface
- humidity of the environment
Surfaces frequently touched with your own hands or other peoples hands are most likely to become contaminated, including:
- credit cards
- light switches
- faucet handles
- steering wheel
- cabinet handles
- elevator buttons
Packages that you receive in the mail may be contaminated, but because parcels generally take a few days to be delivered, the risk of spread is low.
To protect yourself from COVID-19, make sure to do the following when handling products shipped within or outside of Canada:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling the package
- avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands
There's no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through the water. However, it can spread from person to person through close contact in and around the water. This includes crowded spaces, such as:
- swimming pools
- pool decks
- change rooms
- public washrooms
COVID-19 can also spread through contaminated surfaces. Avoid sharing swimming gear with others. This includes things like:
- pool toys
- nose clips
- kick boards
- snorkel equipment
- lifejackets that haven't been cleaned after use
There's currently no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. There are currently no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission through food.
Scientists and food safety authorities across the world are closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19.
If we become aware of a potential food safety risk, appropriate actions will be taken to ensure the safety of Canada's food supply.
Animals in Canada
The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. There's no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the ongoing spread of this disease. Animals and COVID-19 is an area that continues to be studied by scientists.
Learn how to keep pets and livestock, as well as yourself, safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More research is needed to determine if the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted sexually. When deciding to have sex with new partners, regardless of their sex or gender, remember to consider personal and public health.
Sexual activity with new partners increases your risk of getting or passing COVID-19. Even if the people involved don't have symptoms, they could still be sick. If you decide to have sex with someone outside of your circle of contacts, take steps to reduce your risks.
- Monitor yourself for symptoms and don't have sex if anyone involved is feeling sick.
- Limit your number of new sexual partners.
- Consider getting tested for COVID-19.
- Take extra precautions with partners who are at risk for severe COVID-19 illness, such as people who:
- are older adults
- have underlying medical conditions or a weakened immune system
- Consider approaches such as limiting your use of alcohol and other substances, so you and your partners are able to make safe decisions.
It's important to continue practising safer sex, including getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
For more information on how to protect your sexual health during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit:
False and misleading claims
There's no approved product or medicine that prevents, treats or cures COVID-19.
Selling unauthorized health products or making false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is illegal in Canada. We take this matter very seriously and we're taking action to stop this activity.
We encourage anyone who has information regarding potential non-compliant sale or advertising of any health product claiming to treat, prevent or cure COVID-19, to report it using our online complaint form.
Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from 5G devices doesn't spread COVID-19. There's no scientific basis behind these claims. Both the World Health Organization and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection have also addressed these claims.
What COVID-19 information do you need?
- Health and safety
- Prevention and risks
- What is my risk of getting COVID-19 in Canada?
- Difference between quarantine vs isolate
- Physical distancing and how it helps minimize COVID-19
- How can I go out safely during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Surface contamination
- Which people are at risk of severe outcomes?
- Pregnancy and risks related to COVID-19
- Can COVID-19 be transmitted through food?
- Can my pet or other animals get sick from this virus?
- Wearing masks
- Can COVID-19 spread while swimming in lakes and pools?
- Can COVID-19 spread through sex?
- Symptoms and treatment
- Reduce COVID-19 in your community
- What can I do to care for my mental and physical health?
- Drug and medical device supply monitoring
- Travel restrictions, exemptions and advice
- Compassionate exemptions
- Can I leave Canada before my 14-day mandatory quarantine is over?
- I have a negative test for COVID-19. Do I still need to quarantine?
- I have had and recovered from COVID-19. Do I still need to quarantine?
- I am an essential worker under provincial legislation. Am I also exempt from the federal emergency orders?
- Are Canadians currently able to travel to the U.S.?
- Travellers arriving in Canada
- Avoid all non-essential travel
- Avoid all travel on cruise ships
- Registration of Canadians Abroad service
- Check if you have been exposed during recent travel
- I have to travel for essential reasons. How can I reduce my risk of infection?
- I am a Canadian travelling abroad and I need support. Who can I contact?
- I am a traveller trying to return home to Canada. How do I get financial support while abroad?
- For clinical trial sponsors
- Prevention and risks
- Income support
- Additional economic and financial support
- Individuals and families
- People with disabilities
- Post-secondary students and recent graduates
- Indigenous peoples
- Supporting Indigenous communities
- Making personal hygiene products and nutritious food more affordable
- Providing support to Indigenous post-secondary students
- Funding for additional health care resources for Indigenous communities
- Boosting the On-Reserve Income Assistance Program
- New shelters to protect and support Indigenous women and children fleeing violence
- Support for businesses
- Avoiding layoffs, rehiring employees and creating new jobs
- Taxes and tariffs
- Financial support, loans and access to credit
- Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) interest-free loans
- Loan Guarantee for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
- Co-Lending Program for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
- Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF)
- Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA)
- Mid-Market Financing Program
- Mid-Market Guarantee and Financing Program
- Businesses in the territories
- Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF)
- Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) for early-stage businesses
- Additional support by sector
- Targeted support
- Self-employed individuals
- Indigenous businesses
- Supporting financial stability
- Support for sectors
- Agriculture and agri-food
- Keeping workers in the food supply chain safe
- Increasing credit availability
- Helping food producers access more PPE and adapt to health protocols
- Helping producers faced with additional costs incurred by COVID-19
- Increasing the Canadian Dairy Commission borrowing limit
- Helping redistribute existing and unsold inventories
- Increasing interim payments from 50% to 75% through AgriStability
- Expanding AgriInsurance to include labour shortage
- Additional support for your business
- Aquaculture and fisheries
- Cultural, heritage and sport
- Air transportation
- Academic and research
- Agriculture and agri-food
- Organizations helping Canadians
- Services to those in need
- People who need it most
- People with disabilities
- About COVID-19
- E-mail updates on COVID-19
- Current confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Canada
- More details about the cases reported in Canada
- What is COVID-19?
- How does it spread?
- Where can I get information specific to my province or territory?
- How governments are working together
- How can I make a difference in Canada’s COVID-19 response efforts?
- Resources for parents and children
- Resources for youth, students and young adults
- Resources for seniors and their caregivers
- Resources for Indigenous communities
- People with disabilities
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