Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks
On this page
- How coronavirus spreads
- Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate
- Preventing coronavirus
- Risks of getting coronavirus
- False and misleading claims
How coronavirus spreads
Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:
- respiratory droplets generated when you cough or sneeze
- close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands
Current evidence suggests person-to-person spread is efficient when there is close contact.
Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate
Quarantine for 14 days if you have no symptoms and any of the following apply:
- you are returning from travel outside of Canada (mandatory quarantine)
- you had close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19
- you have been told by the public health authority that you may have been exposed and need to quarantine
You must isolate if any of the following apply:
- you have 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 have been in contact with a suspected, probable or confirmed case of COVID-19
- you have been told by public health that you may have been exposed to COVID-19
- you have returned from travel outside Canada with symptoms of COVID-19 (mandatory)
Think you might have COVID-19?
Take a self-assessment
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. This includes staying at home as much as possible and being prepared in case you or a family member becomes ill. Everyone should be practising physical (social) distancing. Even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, you could become infected by others.
As we continue to see transmission of the virus within different communities, we know that everyone must take precautions, even those who have not travelled outside of Canada.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within communities and across the country, all Canadians are advised to:
- stay at home unless you have to go to work
- talk to your employer about working at home if possible
- avoid all non-essential trips in your community
- do not gather in groups
- limit contact with people at higher risk, such as older adults and those in poor health
- go outside to exercise but stay close to home
- if you leave your home, always keep a distance of at least 2 arms lengths (approximately 2 metres) from others
- household contacts (people you live with) do not need to distance from each other unless they are sick or have travelled in the last 14 days
You can go for a walk if you:
- have not been diagnosed with COVID-19
- do not have symptoms of COVID-19
- have not travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days
- are not in quarantine (self-isolating)
- are not isolating
If you go out for a walk, do not congregate and always practise physical (social) distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from others at all times.
Physical (social) distancing
Together, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other. Physical (social) 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 gatherings
- avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes
- limiting contact with people at higher risk like older adults and those in poor health
- keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others
Proper hygiene can help reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food
- use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- when coughing or sneezing:
- cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
- dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
Coronaviruses are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product when used according to the label directions. Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19.
Although they do not claim to kill COVID-19, cleaners can play a role in limiting the transfer of microorganisms. Health Canada recommends cleaning high-touch hard surfaces often, using either regular household cleaners or diluted bleach according to the label directions. This bleach solution should be prepared according to the instructions on the label or in a ratio of 250 mL (1 cup) of water per 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of bleach. Directions are based on bleach that is 5% sodium hypochlorite, to give a 0.1% sodium hypochlorite solution. Never mix bleach with other chemical products and use it in a well-ventilated area. Special precautions must be used when cleaning with bleach to avoid serious incidents.
These surfaces include:
- door handles
- bedside tables
- television remotes
Refer to the guidance on cleaning and disinfecting public spaces for more information.
Wearing masks or face coverings
Medical masks, including surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (like N95 masks), must be kept for health care workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.
Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering while out in public is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings, such as:
- shopping areas
- public transportation
Public health officials will make recommendations based on a number of factors, including the rates of infection and/or transmission in the community. Recommendations may vary from location to location.
If you do choose to wear one, refer to the:
- guidelines on wearing non-medical masks and how to make your own
- COVID-19 Special Advisory Committee's recommendations on the use of non-medical cloth masks or face coverings in community settings
Masks alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing.
Risks of getting coronavirus
COVID-19 is a serious health threat, and the situation is evolving daily. The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.
This does not mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there is already a significant impact on our health care system. If we do not flatten the epidemic curve now, the increase of COVID-19 cases could impact health care resources available to Canadians.
The risk for COVID-19 may be increased for certain settings such as:
- cruise ships
- crowded areas (such as public transit and shopping centres)
- gatherings (spiritual and cultural settings, theatres, sports arenas, festivals and conferences)
Check if you have been exposed
Have you been on a recent flight, cruise, train, or at a public gathering? Check the listed exposure locations to see if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
- aged 65 and over
- with compromised immune systems
- with underlying medical conditions
People who fall into these categories as vulnerable populations should reconsider attending gatherings. This includes large gatherings and even smaller events in crowded or enclosed settings.
If you have symptoms (cough, fever or difficulty breathing), do not attend a mass gathering, event or places where people gather. You could put someone whose health is vulnerable at risk.
We will continue to adapt our risk assessment based on the latest data available.
Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we are still learning how it affects pregnant women. At this time, there is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are at a greater risk for more serious outcomes related to COVID-19 or that their developing child could be 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
- 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 alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- practise physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from others
- avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes
- avoid crowded places and peak-hours
- make limited trips to the store for essentials
- avoid travel by public transit
For more information, refer to our advice for mothers on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for newborns.
If you are pregnant and concerned about COVID-19, speak to your health care provider.
Survival of coronaviruses on surfacesIt is not certain how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Preliminary information on COVID-19 suggests that the virus may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days depending on different conditions, such as:
- type of surface
- humidity of the environment
Surfaces frequently touched with hands are most likely to be contaminated, including:
- light switches
- faucet handles
- cabinet handles
- elevator buttons
Products shipped within or from outside of Canada could also be contaminated. However, because parcels generally take days or weeks to be delivered, and are shipped at room temperature, the risk of spread is low. There is no known risk of coronaviruses entering Canada on parcels or packages.
To protect yourself from COVID-19, make sure to do the following when handling products shipped within or outside of Canada:
- use good hygiene measures
- regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
- do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth
There is currently no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus and there are currently no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission through food. People are unlikely to be infected with the virus 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 is no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the 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.
False and misleading claims
We have not approved any product to prevent, treat or cure 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 are taking action to stop this activity.
Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19. This list is updated regularly. Although they do not claim to kill viruses such as COVID-19, cleaners play a role in helping limit the transfer of microorganisms.
Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from 5G devices does not spread COVID-19. There is 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.
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.
What COVID-19 information do you need?
- Health and safety
- Prevention and risks
- What is my risk of getting COVID-19 in Canada?
- Quarantine (self-isolate) vs isolate
- Physical (social) distancing and how it helps minimize COVID-19
- Am I able to go outside?
- Surface contamination
- 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
- Symptoms and treatment
- Being prepared
- For individuals
- Schools and daycares
- How do I care for a person with COVID-19 at home?
- I am essential employee, what can I do to protect myself while on the job?
- Public health measures to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace
- Are small gatherings still allowed to take place?
- Drug and medical device supply monitoring
- Travel restrictions and exemptions
- 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
- Indigenous peoples
- People who need it most
- Youth, post-secondary students and recent graduates
- Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB)
- Creating new jobs and opportunities
- Launching a new national service initiative
- Helping students continue their studies in the fall
- Supporting international students working in an essential service
- Suspending repayment and interest on student and apprentice loans
- Providing youth with mental health support
- Support for businesses
- Avoiding layoffs and rehiring employees
- Access to credit
- Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP)
- Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)
- Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA)
- Rural businesses and communities
- Assisting innovative and early-stage businesses
- Young entrepreneurs
- Businesses in the territories
- Small and medium-sized businesses unable to access other support measures
- Creating new jobs and opportunities for youth
- Taxes and tariffs
- Self-employed individuals
- Indigenous businesses
- Support for sectors
- Agriculture, agri-food, aquaculture, fisheries
- Keeping workers in the food supply chain safe
- Increasing credit availability
- Assisting the fish and seafood processing sector
- 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 the AgriInsurance to include labour shortage
- Cultural, heritage and sports
- Air transportation
- Non-profit and charitable
- Agriculture, agri-food, aquaculture, fisheries
- 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
- Canadian borders
- Support for Canadians abroad
- What is COVID-19?
- Incubation period
- How does it spread?
- What are the risks of getting it?
- 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
- People with disabilities
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