From anti-vaxxers to Zoom shirts: your guide to the new language of Covid-19

Coronavirus has changed the way we speak, as well as live

Coronavirus has changed not just the way we live, but the way we speak.

Once obscure medical terms are now part of everyday language, while new words and phrases have emerged.

For those who don't know the difference between quarantine and quaranteam, our guide to Covid-19 is here to help:

Air bridge / air corridor: An arrangement between two countries to allow direct flights between them that bypass quarantine restrictions imposed on citizens of other nations.

Anti-vaxxer: People who will refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, even before a drug is available. Reasons vary from fears of side effects, to a belief that vaccinations are an instrument of government control, possibly by injecting some form of identity chip. A philosophy most prominent in the US, but which also includes the Taliban.

Cluster: A group of people with the disease, usually infected by a single carrier. Clusters could be a single household or entire cities. Weddings, busy open-plan offices and factories are particular hot spots. Isolating clusters to limit the range of Covid-19 are crucial to prevent it spreading.

Contact tracing: Once someone is confirmed with Covid-19 it is important to locate everyone they have been in close contact with and get them to self-isolate. Also known as track and trace, it is widely believed to be the reason why many countries in east Asia, who already had advance contract tracing systems from the earlier Sars outbreak, have escaped with such low disease rates.

U.S. President Donald Trump wears a protective face mask during a tour of the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies' Innovation Center, a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant where components for a potential coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine candidate are being developed, in Morrrisville, North Carolina, U.S., July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Donald Trump endorsed several drugs and actions that proved to be ineffective, unproven or even harmful. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Contactless: As in “contactless payments only please.” The waving of a debit card over the reduces the risk of touching anything when paying. In some countries, the use of cash has dropped by more than half during the pandemic.

Covid-19: Stands for COrona VIrus Disease and the year it emerged, 2019. The virus itself is called Sars-CoV-2 and the disease it causes is called Covid-19.

Covidiot: Anybody who ignores sensible health precautions in a reckless manner, but also widely applied to tone-deaf celebrities who fail to read the room. Think Ellen DeGeneres comparing self isolation in her LA mansion to “prison” or Madonna calling the disease “a great equaliser”, from a candle-lit bath filled with rose petals.

Dexamethasone: A cheap and readily available anti-inflammatory that its shown to reduce deaths by a third of the most seriously ill patients on ventilators. A rare success among around 150 existing drugs being evaluated for Covid-19.

Expert: Once someone with extensive and incisive knowledge of a subject, under Covid-19 this now applies to retired politicians who think they could have done better, disgruntled scientists not invited to sit on important committees, that man in the supermarket queue who heard something from someone, and your brother-in-law.

Flattening the curve: A strategy that involves closing offices, shops and schools and encouraging, sometimes enforcing, people to stay at home. The objective is to keep infections below a point at which health services are not overwhelmed at any one time, or flattening the curve of a graph representing this rate. Also described by the UK’s Boris Johnson as “flattening the sombrero” because of the graph’s resemblance to the hat.

Fomite: Scientific term for any object or material that can transmit infection. Studies have indicate Covid-19 can survive on a variety of surfaces from just a couple of hours to nine days.

Furlough: A term once applied to soldiers given extended leave from the front line, now applied to workers sent home by companies affected by the coronavirus shutdown, but not yet made redundant. They may sometimes receive a reduced wage, in some cases paid by the government. The word comes from the Dutch “verlof” meaning leave of absence.

Herd immunity: Controversial theory that suggests if around 60 per cent of people contract the Covid-19 virus, the entire population (or herd) will become effectively immune. Mentioned as a possible strategy by one UK scientist but abandoned for full lockdown after further projections of a death toll in the hundreds of thousands.

Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ): Anti-malarial drug that showed some promise in animal trials but has so far failed to reproduce this in humans. Donald Trump was an early enthusiast. The WHO said it does not reduce death rates.

K number: The K number, or value, is an attempt to calculate varying rates of infection - where some people or situations pass on the disease to a large number of others and others hardly any or not at all. Many scientists think identifying these complex patterns is the key to controlling Covid-19.

'New normal': Over-used expression applied to any aspect of everyday life changed under Covid-19 restrictions. Examples include queuing at two metre intervals outside a supermarket, having a haircut in a mask and never going on holiday again. Much loved by politicians and media pundits, ensuring it is the most irritating phrase of 2020.

Novel coronavirus: The correct full name for the type of disease. Novel (meaning new) refers to what the WHO defines as “new pathogen of a previously known type”, while coronavirus means a virus who shape has the characteristics of a crown, or corona in Latin.

Pandemic: Covid-19 became identified as a pandemic when it was judged to have spread across multiple countries or continents, as opposed to an epidemic which is restricted to a particular country. Both spread rapidly over a short period of time.

Patient Zero: The first infected person identified at the start of an outbreak. Since many people seem to get Covid-19 with few or no symptoms, the disease may actually have entered a community weeks, if not months earlier, before Patient Zero.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson, hosting a Cabinet meeting while self-isolating with coronavirus, has come under fire over the low level of Covid-19 testing in the UK. AFP/10 Downing Street
Zoom meetings and parties alike have become part of every day life. AFP

PPE: Personal Protective Equipment. Medical grade masks, gowns, gloves etc which protect health workers from infection. Such basics have been crucial to coping with the pandemic.

Quarantine: Applies to a process of remaining isolated either singly or in a household for a period of time, with the objective of either avoiding the disease or not passing it on. Not to be confused with…

Quaranteam: A group of friends or like-minded people that hang out together in an exclusive bubble or “pod”. If everyone sticks to isolating the rest of the time, they can meet without fear of catching the virus - in theory.

Remdesivir: Anti-viral drug originally developed to fight ebola, whose effectiveness against Covid-19 is disputed.

R number: Stands for reproductive, or the number of people infected by a single person with coronavirus. An R number above 1 means the disease is spreading, while a number below 1 shows it is in decline and should eventually disappear. (see also K number)

Shielding: Protecting those most vulnerable to serious illness from contracting Covid-19, by ensuring they remain completely isolated from any face to face contact with another person.

Social distancing: The distance between people necessary to prevent transmission of the disease. Widely set at two metres, but reduced to 1.5 or or even 1 metre as the number of cases falls.

Sourdough starter: A naturally fermenting wild yeast used to make sourdough bread, one the more popular hobbies taken up during Covid lockdown, with successes (rare) bragged about on social media. Alternatives include learning Japanese or mastering the ukulele.

Superspreader: Some people do not appear to be infectious, while others give it to dozens. These are superspreaders, for reasons that are not fully understood but may be linked to their behaviour. After attending a church service in Korea, one woman is believed to have infected nearly 40 fellow worshippers and caused the lockdown of a city of 2.5 million.

WFH: Commonly used abbreviation for working from home, with many companies closing their offices and encouraging home working. Popular at first, but maybe less so after six months sharing the laptop with the kids. Side effects include wearing pyjamas until noon, and spending too much time watching funny cat videos on YouTube.

Zoom: A widely used video conferencing tool, once obscure, whose use for home working has rocketed, along with its share price. Offers all the irritations of office meetings but none of the perks (gossip, lunch breaks, getting away from the family).

Zoom shirt: The realisation that only the upper half of your body is visible on Zoom. A neatly pressed Zoom work shirt or blouse is kept on the back of a chair and slipped on over more casual attire for video conferences. Care must be taken when standing up during a call.

Published: July 28, 2020 07:17 PM


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