Covid-19 jargon buster: What are ‘the curve’, R0 and the NPHET?

How to read a coronavirus story without getting bamboozled, and remember who’s who


Covid-19 Some diseases, like storms or hurricanes, get their own names. Covid-19 is the acronym the World Health Organisation has given this particular coronavirus respiratory disease. It stands for COronaVIrus Disease of 2019.

Flattening the curve Slowing the spread of a virus to bring down the maximum number of people affected at any one time, so lowering the highest point on a graph of the number of people with Covid-19 over time. This helps to reduce pressure on hospitals and other medical resources.

Incubation period The time it takes for symptoms to manifest. The World Health Organisation says the estimated incubation period for Covid-19 ranges from one to 14 days, with five days being the most common stage at which the disease manifests.

Lockdown When a government orders its citizens to stay indoors, at home. Each country decides on a range of exceptions for people to travel for essential work, to care for vulnerable family, or to shop and exercise.


Novel coronavirus Coronavirus refers to any of a family of viruses that look like spiked spheres under a microscope. Novel coronavirus – which is to say a new form – was the interim name given to the disease we now know as Covid-19.

Pandemic When a disease becomes larger than an epidemic, and spreads across countries and continents.

PPE Personal protective equipment. These medically approved items include masks, face shields, gloves, gowns, aprons and respirators.

R-zero or R0 A measure used to describe an infection's level of contagion. Ongoing research into Covid-19 suggests that its R0 is between 2 and 2.5. This means each infectious person will pass on the infection to at least two other people.

Self-isolation This refers to people who have symptoms of Covid-19. They need to stay at home, stay away from other members of the household by staying in their own room, stop going out, and sleep alone if possible.

Social distancing Keeping at least two meters from anybody else in public, as when in a supermarket queue or out for a walk.

Symptomatic When a person shows symptoms of a particular illness. Symptoms for Covid-19 include a persistent cough, fever, tiredness and difficulty breathing.

Quarantine Restricting the movement of people who have been exposed, or potentially exposed, to a contagious disease such as Covid-19.

World Health Organisation More commonly referred to as the WHO, the World Health Organisation works to promote public health for all, particularly the vulnerable in society.

HPSC The Health Protection Surveillance Group, part of the Health Services Executive, is a specialist agency that monitors infectious diseases. It works with other health services, nationally and internationally, to provide the public with information on the control and prevention of infectious diseases.

NPHET The national public health emergency team, created on January 27th this year within the Department of Health, is providing guidance on the development and implementation of a strategy to contain Covid-19. It is also helping to co-ordinate the healthcare sector's response to Covid-19 across Ireland.

NVRL The National Virus Reference Laboratory, based at University College Dublin, provides a reference and diagnostic service for medical practitioners in Ireland who are examining viral infections.


Cillian De Gascun Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory, and and a consultant virologist, he is now chairing the newly created expert advisory group that has been asked to provide advice on Covid-19 to the HSE and the national public health emergency team. His Twitter profile says he is a movie lover and sports fan.

Colm Henry The HSE's national clinical adviser also manages and leads planning for its acute hospitals. He is based at Dr Steevens Hospital, in Dublin.

Tony Holohan The chief medical officer – formally, William Gerard Anthony Holohan – studied medicine at University College Dublin, graduating in 1991. After working as a GP he moved into public-health medicine. In 2001 he was appointed deputy chief medical officer at the Department of Health. He became chief medical officer in 2008. He is now a familiar face from the department's daily updates on Covid-19.

Anne O'Connor The HSE's chief operations officer, and formerly the national director for mental health, began her career as an occupational therapist. She worked in Britain and India before returning to Ireland in 1995. After working as an occupational therapist in Dublin, she became a local health manager, rising to work with the national mental health division.