The ins and outs of the COVID-19 coronavirus

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PLEASE NOTE: This guide was originally written in French. If you are using the English version of our site, you will see an automatic translation. You can change the language from the menu in the site header or see our English language guides here.

Last December, a new coronavirus named COVID-19 was detected in the city of Wuhan in China after an outbreak of atypical pneumonia was identified. The first ill people developed their symptoms following exposure to a seafood and live animal market located in the city. Insights into the ins and outs of COVID-19.

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What is the new coronavirus?

COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This coronavirus was unknown before December 2019, when the first cases were reported in the city of Wuhan in China. Indeed, sick people developed their symptoms following exposure to a seafood and live animal market located in the city. Coronaviruses form a family of viruses that can affect both humans and animals; the hypothesis is therefore that COVID-19 would have been transmitted from a living animal to humans during a visit to this Wuhan market. The virus could come from a snake, a bat or a pangolin since the proteins of this coronavirus are more likely to act in the body of these three animals. Experts are still studying the origin by listing the animals sold in this market.

Since then, the epidemic in China has turned into a global pandemic, affecting Europe more strongly with two thirds of the victims, especially in Italy, Spain and France. However, it is in the United States that we see the greatest increase in COVID-19 with more than 55,000 cases detected in one week.

The coronavirus is a virus from the same family as those used in colds and flu, but also in more serious respiratory diseases. When humans have it, they experience symptoms like fever, cough, and breathing difficulties similar to pneumonia. Other coronaviruses have been responsible for major epidemics around the world such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) from 2012.

Who can be infected?

The number of people who contract the virus is growing exponentially and, unfortunately, those most at risk can die from it. What is worrying at the moment is that no drug or vaccine exists to stop the progression of this virus. Researchers are studying the virus to better understand it and find solutions to prevent its spread. We can consult this web application to know in real time the number of people affected by the disease. 

Strict measures

In order to ensure that the virus does not spread all over the planet, very serious measures are being put in place. Borders, schools and all non-essential businesses are closed. Public transport has stopped in some countries and planes no longer take off at several airports. All travelers are placed in quarantine for 14 days upon arrival at home and the majority of governments have declared confinement, mandatory or not, for the general population. In hospitals, intense sanitation measures are installed. In Wuhan, they even built a new 1,000-bed hospital in record time (10 days) to accommodate infected people.


The World Health Organization (WHO) takes care of registering patients in each country. She studies the progression of the virus, she organizes the health precautions to be adopted in all the countries of the world, at the same time as she deploys the efforts to find solutions not only to cure the patients, but also to stop the viral infection.

The challenge

The progression curve of the COVID-19 is exponential. The goal of each country is to flatten this curve. Ask students to learn about this concept of flattening the curve by reading the Pharmachien's file on this subject. They will then have to summarize the concept in their own words so that they can explain it to their friends and tell them what they can do to help flatten the curve.



Disciplines and levels targeted

Secondary cycle 2:

– Ethics

  • Analyze a situation from an ethical point of view

– Science

  • Situate a scientific problem in its context
  • Build your opinion on the issue under study
  • Produce and transmit scientific messages

- Mathematical

  • Data analysis
  • Entering and transmitting information using mathematical language

– Health Education

Targeted dimensions of digital competence

  • Act as an ethical citizen in the digital age
  • Harnessing the potential of digital technology for learning
  • Developing and mobilizing information literacy
  • Producing content with digital

Suggested digital tools

  • Popplet or Mindomo
  • Can go
  • Sheets or Excel

Educational intention of the guide

At the end of the readings and activities, students will be able to assess the severity of the epidemic as well as fully understand the safety measures to adopt to avoid infection without causing panic.

Objectives of the activities

  • Understand the measures adopted during an outbreak of an epidemic.
  • Develop a critical mind in the face of information and people's reactions.
  • Be objective and stick to the facts when it comes to issues surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus.

ACTIVITY 1: To be well informed

A group of walkers left at the beginning of December 2019 in complete autonomy. Their hike started in Tibet and ended on the outskirts of Wuhan, China. The group decided not to go through the cities and chose not to bring communication tools. Cut off from all external contact, the walkers end their trek in the region most at risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

You are a friend of hikers. You must welcome them and inform them of the current epidemic situation. How will you welcome them? 

Using a digital tool such as PoppletMindomo or another known to the students to create mind maps, they will need to collect information related to the following points: 

  • what is important to prepare for their arrival;
  • what precautions should be taken to protect them;
  • what information is important to pass on to them?

Learners will find several answers to these questions on the WHO website in the "Frequently Asked Questions about Novel Coronaviruses" section.

ACTIVITY 2: Prevention is better than cure

When a virus like the COVID-19 coronavirus appears, humans are afraid. The information conveyed is sometimes good, sometimes exaggerated, sometimes completely wrong. What do you see from the reactions of people in and around the media?

Have students create an infographic using Can go which advises people on health precautions and prevention methods to reduce the risk of contamination.

You will find here examples of infographics created by the WHO to inspire students in their approach. Moreover, on the Government of Quebec website, students will have a list of health precautions for travelers to China and steps to take to prevent virus transmission. This will therefore provide them with objective and reliable data for the creation of their infographic.

ACTIVITY 3: A graph is worth a thousand words

Using data from this web application which reports in real time the number of confirmed cases, the students are invited to create a graph which represents the distribution of the new coronavirus in the world.

Four different angles are possible:

  • number of confirmed cases by country;
  • number of confirmed cases by city;
  • number of deaths by country;
  • number of healings per country.

Use a spreadsheet such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to enter the data and thus create the desired graph (lines, areas, columns, sectors, etc.).


Several data on the coronavirus are spreading in real time on the Web. From this data, some media and people on social networks produce maps to show the spatial spread of the epidemic from officially recorded cases. You will find here several of these cards, more or less rigorous, and which often stir up panic in the population by the choice of colors or the mode of representation. Each team can then choose a card and analyze it. The descriptive texts which are connected to it will help the learners to understand the objective of each of the cards. The teams will finally be able to provide a summary related to the elements below:  

  • what is the source of the map;
  • what are the author's intentions;
  • what emotions the card evokes;
  • another element chosen by the teacher.


New coronavirus: global epidemic of fake news
La Presse, January 28, 2020

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
World Health Organization 

Coronavirus: why China took a long time to react
Brut, February 9, 2020 (13-minute documentary)

Novel coronavirus
World Health Organization, January 31, 2020 (5 minute video)

What we know about the mysterious virus that appeared in China
Québec Science, January 21, 2020

New coronavirus in China: on the trail of the snake?
Science et Avenir, January 23, 2020

Virus in China: 6 words to understand
1jour1actu, January 27, 2020

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV
Government of Quebec

The coronavirus in 12 questions
Radio-Canada, January 29, 2020

Coronavirus: not all studies are created equal
Agence Science-Presse, February 7, 2020

Coronavirus (3 minute video)

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Designed to fill short periods or inspire larger projects, the activities offered in the SCOOP! allow the teacher to approach the subject matter in the program in addition to developing the information literacy and digital skills of the students.

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