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Debunked: The UK no longer considers Covid-19 a high consequence infectious disease, but social media posts about it are misleading

A screenshot shared online is true, but doesn’t tell the full story.

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A SCREENSHOT OF the UK government website saying Covid-19 is no longer considered a high consequence infectious disease (HCID) has been shared online over the past week. 

Although the screenshot is correct, it alone does not provide enough information to explain a HCID and what this classification means. 

It is also often accompanied by messages saying the UK government’s response is now different, even lessened, because of this classification change. This is misleading. 


This image, which is an accurate screenshot from the UK government website, states:

As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious diseases (HCID) in the UK.
The 4 nations public health HCID group made an interim recommendation in January 2020 to classify COVID-19 as an HCID. This was based on consideration of the UK HCID criteria about the virus and the disease with information available during the early stages of the outbreak. Now that more is known about COVID-19, the public health bodies in the UK have reviewed the most up to date information about COVID-19 against the UK HCID criteria. They have determined that several features have now changed; in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall), and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific and sensitive laboratory test, the availability of which continues to increase.
The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID

On its website, the UK government statement says Covid-19 cases are no longer managed by HCID treatment centres only.  

As a result, healthcare workers in the UK managing possible and confirmed cases of Covid-19 are now being advised to follow national infection and prevention (IPC) guidance.

A high consequence infectious disease (HCID) is defined under the following terms:

  • it is an acute infectious disease
  • it typically has a high-case fatality rate
  • it may not have effective prophylaxis or treatment
  • it is often difficult to recognise and detect rapidly
  • it has the ability to spread in the community and within healthcare settings
  • it requires an enhanced, individual, population and system response to ensure it’s managed effectively, efficiently and safely

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), these diseases constitute “serious human health threats”. 

Patients with diseases in this category typically develop severe symptoms and need a high level of care. 

The UK government said it changed this classification of Covid-19 recently due to more information about mortality rates, greater clinical awareness and a laboratory test for the disease. 

HCIDs are rare in the UK and tend to be sporadic, the government said. 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), two previous coronaviruses, are both on the UK’s list of HCIDs.

SARS and MERS had higher mortality rates than SARS-C0V-2, the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease.

According to the ECDC, SARS had a mortality rate of approximately 10%, but exceeded 50% in patients aged over 60 years. 

MERS had a mortality rate of approximately 36%, according to the ECDC. 

Although no proper estimate of the mortality rate from Covid-19 can be gathered while the situation is constantly changing, the World Health Organisation said current data indicates a mortality rate of 3-4%. 

Seasonal flu has a mortality rate of around 0.1%. 

The laboratory test to identify Covid-19 was discovered relatively quickly after the disease began to spread a few months ago, meaning it can be detected rapidly.

Despite its change of classification on 19 March, the UK government said the need for a national and coordinated response to the disease remains in place.

People in the UK are being advised to stay at home, stay two metres from others and wash your hands regularly. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday that the UK is “coping very well indeed under the most challenging possible circumstances”.

As of Thursday, there are 9,529 coronavirus cases and 422 deaths from the disease in the UK, according to the ECDC.

In Ireland, detailed plans and guidance for Covid-19 have been prepared by the HSE High Consequences Infectious Diseases Planning and Coordination Group since January to prepare the health service for the outbreak. 

The HSE’s advice for Irish citizens is to maintain social distancing, wash hands properly and often and stay at least two metres away from other people to prevent the spread of the disease.  


There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about the coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 


Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: 

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