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Coronavirus: Frequently Asked Questions Answered

What do you do if you have a cough? When should you get tested? Who should be quarantined?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared coronavirus a pandemic, and there is an uptick in the number of patients being diagnosed across India. While it is understandable if you’re feeling anxious, a common piece of advice across continents seems to be ‘DO NOT PANIC’.

It’s flu season, and it’s likely that many of us have the sniffles, but that does not necessarily mean you have got coronavirus. But it does mean that you may need to stay home. As people get inundated with articles on what to do and what not to do, we read through the advisories provided by the Union and state governments and spoke to the helpful folks at the Delhi government’s helpline to help answer some confusing questions.

What are the symptoms you should watch out for?

Here’s what the WHO says:

“The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.”

I have a cough. What should I do?

Both the advisory issued by India’s health ministry and the person manning the Delhi government’s helpline say you can visit a doctor if you feel sick (and don’t have a travel history to affected areas)—make sure you cover your nose and mouth with a mask/cloth to protect yourself and others. As of 12 March, the government’s advisory still says non-affected persons do not need to wear masks.

Do I need to get tested for coronavirus if I have a cold?

Right now, India is only testing those who have travelled abroad, or otherwise interacted with people who have tested positive for the virus. If you have doubts about who may be at risk, please call the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s 24X7 helpline at 011-23978046 or other state helplines (at the bottom of the story), where you will be guided on next steps.

Remember, at this point, private doctors and practitioners have not yet been authorised to test for coronavirus.

Do I need to quarantine myself?

The health ministry has a document which discusses home quarantine at length. According to this, only people who have come into contact with a person suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 should be quarantined. But according to the WHO, it’s best to practise “social distancing” to protect yourself and others.

What other advice does the Indian government have?

India’s Ministry of Health And Family Welfare has issued an advisory asking people to avoid attending mass gatherings to prevent the spread of the disease.

Here are some other do’s and don’ts from the government to prevent spread of the virus and to protect yourself and others.


— Wash your hands frequently. You can wash them with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Wash your hands even if they are visibly clean.

— Cover your nose and mouth with a handkerchief/tissue while sneezing and coughing. If there’s nothing available, cough into your elbow.

— Throw used tissues into closed bins immediately after use.

— See a doctor if you feel unwell (fever, difficulty in breathing and cough). If visiting a doctor, wear a mask/cloth to cover your mouth and nose.

— If you have these signs/symptoms please call your state’s helpline number (at the end of the copy) or the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare’s 24X7 helpline at 011-23978046.

— Avoid participating in large gatherings.

Do Not

— Maintain close contact with others if you have a cough or fever.

— Touch your eyes, nose and mouth.

— Spit in public

The health ministry has also issued a simple comic for children to teach them about the virus.

 A view of the specialized coronavirus ward set up inside Hindu Rao Hospital, at Civil Lines on March 11, 2020 in New Delhi, India. 
 A view of the specialized coronavirus ward set up inside Hindu Rao Hospital, at Civil Lines on March 11, 2020 in New Delhi, India. 

FAQs answered

The person manning the Delhi government’s helpline told us that at this point, they are only testing people who have travelled abroad recently, people who have come into contact with foreigners or those who have come into contact with people who have tested positive.

Here are some of the questions that they answered:

I have a cold with running nose, but no other symptoms. What should I do?

If you have no travel history, then you don’t have to get tested. Because right now, it is normal flu season. India still doesn’t have too many cases. You will know that it’s just people who are coming from outside countries like Italy, they are the ones who are testing positive.

What if I travel around the city for work and meet a lot of people?

According to our guidelines at the moment, we are testing only when there is travel history outside the country. But if you come in contact with lots of foreigners and you have multiple symptoms, then you may be tested after checking your symptoms.

Can private hospitals test for the coronavirus?

For now, most hospitals have been asked to prepare, but it has not started. If the number of patients increase, even private hospitals will be authorised to test. At the moment we don’t have so many patients. But at the moment, most hospitals are prepared to take in patients.

Can private doctors test for coronavirus?

Private doctors at the moment cannot test for the coronavirus. If you have symptoms you can go to a private doctor to get medicines, but you can only do that if you don’t have travel history.

How long do the test results take?

It takes 24-48 hours.

What if I have travel history, and I go to the hospital, what happens then?

If you have travel history and you show the signs and symptoms, then they will isolate you in the hospital.

What if the test is positive?

You will be isolated in the hospital.

What are the precautions being taken at the hospital to ensure that you don’t contract the virus from there?

We don’t know about those precautions. But what we have been telling is that if you have signs and symptoms and wash your hands frequently, keep a hand sanitiser handy. If you think a person is infected, then keep at least a one-hand distance from them.

What if I have symptoms? How long should I wait before getting tested?

Fourteen days. Say, if you have travelled from a foreign country and you have showed no signs and symptoms at the airport, even then you have to quarantine yourself for 14 days. You should not interact with anyone outside for 14 days.

What if I have no travel history, but I show symptoms of the flu, what should I do?

You should go to a local hospital and get yourself medicines. Because at the moment, it has not spread in India. So even if someone tests positive, we try to treat everyone they have interacted with. This is according to the guidelines of the Government of India.

Available helpline numbers

If you think you may have symptoms of the virus, do not panic and call one of the helpline numbers for your state.


Phone: +91-11-2397 8046

E-mail at


011 22307145, 011 22300012, 011 22300036


0471 2309250, 0471 2309251, 0471 230925



West Bengal:

1800 313 444 222/ 033 2341 2600


Toll free: 104


State helpline: 104

Tamil Nadu:

Landline: 044-29510400 or 044-29510500

Mobile: 94443 40496 or 87544 48477

Andhra Pradesh:



Toll free: 104

Uttar Pradesh:


Jammu and Kashmir:

State level cell — 0191-2549676

Jammu division - 0191-2520982

Dr. Deepak Kapoor - 9419197338

Kashmir division - 0194-2440283
DR SM Qadiri - 9419010363

Arunachal Pradesh:

Control room — 9436055743, 9612153293 and 9599929423

Toll free number 11001902

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This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost India, which closed in 2020. Some features are no longer enabled. If you have questions or concerns about this article, please contact