What you need to know about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Learn about COVID-19, how it spreads, who is at risk, what to do if you think you have it, and what resources and support are available to you.

What is COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. These can range from the common cold to more serious diseases.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a form of coronavirus. 

Other coronaviruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).


Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly. People with coronavirus may experience symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • respiratory symptoms
    • coughing
    • sore throat
    • shortness of breath.

Other symptoms can include runny nose, acute blocked nose (congestion), headache, muscle or joint pains, nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of sense of smell, altered sense of taste, loss of appetite and fatigue.

To stop the spread of COVID-19 people with even mild symptoms of respiratory infection should get tested.

Respiratory allergies – allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and allergic asthma

People who have hay fever or allergic asthma may have similar symptoms to the symptoms of COVID-19. Some differences are:

  • fever does not occur with hay fever or allergic asthma
  • itchy nose, itchy and watery eyes, and itchy throat and palate are common symptoms of hay fever but not COVID-19.

More information about the different symptoms is available in the COVID-19: Identifying the symptoms factsheet.

It can be difficult to tell if your symptoms are due to allergies or to COVID-19. You should stay home and get tested:

  • when you first get the allergy symptoms, and
  • if your symptoms are unexpected, seem different or worse than usual, or do not respond to your usual medication.

Find out more in our video featuring Dr Nick Coatsworth talking about allergies and testing for COVID-19.

If you are concerned you may have COVID-19:

healthdirect Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker

Answer questions about your symptoms to see if you need to seek medical help or get tested. This tool is available online at any time.

If you do not have any symptoms, you should still protect yourself and others.

How it spreads

The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • close contact with an infectious person (including in the 48 hours before they had symptoms)
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

COVID-19 is a new disease, so there is no existing immunity in our community. This means that COVID-19 could spread widely and quickly.

See how to protect yourself and others.

Who is most at risk

In Australia, the people most at risk of catching the virus are:

  • travellers who have recently been overseas
  • those who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • people in correctional and detention facilities
  • people in group residential settings.

You are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if you:

You are at moderate risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if you:

If you have any medical conditions it is recommended you discuss your individual risk and what you can do to protect yourself with your treating doctor. See our advice for people at risk.

At this stage the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in the transmission of COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population. For more information about COVID-19 and children please read this fact sheet.

There is limited evidence at this time regarding the risk in pregnant women.

Long-term health effects of COVID-19

The Australian Government is actively monitoring medical research being done around the world on the short- and long-term health effects of COVID-19. COVID-19 can affect a range of body systems including those related to the:

  • lungs
  • heart
  • brain
  • liver
  • kidneys
  • intestines
  • muscles
  • joints and
  • blood vessels.

There is now good evidence that some people experience ongoing symptoms after recovering from the acute illness related to COVID-19. These symptoms can sometimes last weeks to months after recovery from their initial illness.

Ongoing symptoms are more common in people who had more severe illness from COVID-19, for example in those who needed treatment in hospital. Up to 30% of seriously ill patients have reported at least one symptom, most commonly fatigue, persisting after 6 months.

However, some people who initially had mild symptoms have also reported persistent symptoms. This suggests the virus may cause a prolonged impact on a number of body systems that can affect both physical and mental health.

The most commonly reported persistent symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of, or reduced, sense of smell and/or taste
  • chest pain
  • lack of sleep
  • headaches

Other symptoms that have also been reported include:

  • chills, fever or sweating
  • poor concentration and memory problems
  • cough
  • depression and anxiety
  • hair loss
  • joint and/or muscle pain
  • irregular heart beat
  • low blood pressure on standing associated with a fast heart rate (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) which may explain some of the other symptoms
  • weakness
  • weight loss

Other serious long term complications that may occur with COVID-19, in particular following serious illness, includes:

  • lung damage and scarring
  • scarring of the heart muscle
  • heart failure
  • kidney failure

How long will the symptoms last?

It is currently uncertain how long these symptoms may persist. COVID-19 is a novel virus so most studies have only reported up to 6 months after a diagnosis with COVID-19. However, the number of people experiencing these symptoms is known to decrease over time. In a large survey of people in the United Kingdom who had COVID-19, 22% still reported at least one symptom at 5 weeks following their initial infection. In that survey, nearly 10% of people reported at least one symptom at 12 weeks.

Protect yourself and others

Everyone must do the following things to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect those who are most at risk.

If you have travelled recently, see our advice for travellers.

How to seek medical attention

If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical advice and get tested. If you want to talk to someone about your symptoms, call the National coronavirus Helpline for advice.

National Coronavirus Helpline

For information about COVID-19 and vaccines call 1800 020 080. This line operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with additional options for priority groups.

View contact

To seek medical help from a doctor or hospital, call ahead of time to book an appointment.

You will be asked to take precautions when you attend for treatment. Follow the instructions you are given.

If you have a mask, wear it to protect others. Stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Cover your coughs or sneezes with your elbow.

Tell the doctor about:

  • your symptoms
  • any travel history
  • any recent contact you have had with someone who has COVID-19.

How to get tested

If you have cold or flu like symptoms, such as a cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath or runny nose, even if these are mild, you should get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible. People with mild symptoms can still spread the virus. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms should get tested.

As part of Australia’s response to COVID-19, public health units around Australia have increased testing. People may have a COVID-19 test for several reasons. You can find more guidance for people who are tested under these enhanced procedures for COVID-19.

If you need to get tested, you can:

  • attend a free COVID-19 respiratory clinic
  • contact your doctor and they will arrange the test, this may attract a fee.

COVID-19 respiratory clinics are dedicated health centres located around the country, focusing on testing people with symptoms of respiratory infection.

Find the COVID-19 respiratory clinic nearest to you.

If your symptoms are severe, you should seek urgent medical attention. If possible, call ahead so the medical facility can prepare.

If it is a medical emergency, please call 000.

Early diagnosis means you can get the help you need and take steps to avoid spreading the virus to someone else.

Testing diagnoses patients with COVID-19 and helps health authorities monitor and track the spread of COVID-19. As the situation changes, states and territories may adjust their testing criteria based on local needs. For latest information check your state or territory health website.

Testing is important for anyone with symptoms and particularly if any of the following apply to you:

  • you have returned from overseas in the past 14 days
  • you have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days
  • you are a health care, aged care or residential care worker or staff member with direct patient contact
  • you have lived in or travelled through an area where there is a higher risk of community transmission, as defined by the local public health unit
  • you travelled on a cruise ship (either passenger or crew) in the 14 days before developing symptoms.

People in high-risk settings will be regularly monitored to ensure symptoms are identified early. Rapid response plans will be activated if someone in those settings develops a fever or respiratory symptoms. 

Examples of high-risk settings include: 

  • aged and residential care facilities
  • correctional facilities
  • boarding houses
  • military group residences and other closed settings, such as Navy ships or live-in accommodation
  • remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

After testing

If you get tested for the virus, or you have symptoms, you need to stay at home. You will need to do this until you either have a negative test result or your symptoms have gone – whichever is longer. It may take a day or 2 for your test results to come back.

If your doctor says you are well enough to go home while you wait for your test results, you should protect yourself and others.

If you meet certain criteria, you may be considered a suspect case and be required to isolate.

People who are required to quarantine will need to continue to do so, regardless of a negative test result. For further information read guidance for people tested for COVID-19.

For questions about testing or patient welfare, call the National Coronavirus Helpline.

National Coronavirus Helpline

For information about COVID-19 and vaccines call 1800 020 080. This line operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with additional options for priority groups.

View contact

Temperature checks 

A temperature check is when a monitoring device, such as a contactless thermometer or thermal imaging, checks whether someone has a fever. In places like hospitals and aged care facilities, temperature checks may be useful as an extra precaution to protect vulnerable people. Some places might test visitors as well as workers.

Temperature checks are not as useful in other settings. People with COVID-19 don’t always develop fever, or they might have a fever from another illness. Some medications reduce fever.

If you feel unwell with COVID-19 symptoms, even mild ones, stay home and get tested for COVID-19. This is an important part of our 3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia.

COVID-19 and breastfeeding

Women are encouraged to continue breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read our advice on COVID-19 and breastfeeding.


To find out more, see our English COVID-19 resources and translated COVID-19 resources.

Information about COVID-19 and the COVIDSafe app is also available in 63 languages on the Department of Home Affairs website

For what we are doing to limit the spread of COVID-19, go to Government response to the outbreak.


Support is available if you are concerned about COVID-19 or are distressed because you are in quarantine or sick. It is important to look after your mental health

The Australian Government is providing additional Medicare-subsidised psychological therapy sessions for Australians affected by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Visit the Head to Health website:

  • links to mental health online and phone support
  • resources and services that can help if you’re experiencing mental health concerns or trying to support someone else.

Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service

Beyond Blue are providing information, advice and strategies to help you manage your wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.


View contact

Last updated: 
11 August 2021

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