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

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms include fever, coughing, sore throat and shortness of breath. The virus can spread from person to person, but good hygiene can prevent infection. Find out who is at risk and what you should do if you think you have COVID-19.

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 the disease caused by a new coronavirus. It was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City in China.

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

Symptoms

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:

  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue
  • shortness of breath

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 are not showing 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 24 hours before they started showing symptoms)
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze 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 getting 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 detention facilities
  • people in group residential settings

People who are more at risk of serious illness if they get the virus are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (eg. cancer)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they have higher rates of chronic illness
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • very young children and babies*

*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.

See our advice for people at risk.

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. If you want to talk to someone about your symptoms, call the National Coronavirus Helpline for advice.

National Coronavirus Helpline

Call this line if you are seeking information on COVID-19. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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 with someone who has COVID-19

GP respiratory clinics

The Australian Government is establishing GP respiratory clinics around the country to assess people with fever, cough, a sore throat, or shortness of breath.

These are being rolled out gradually. If there is not one in your area yet visit your state or territory health department website for more information on fever clinics and other services.

Find out how to register for an appointment with our:

Testing

Your doctor will tell you if you should be tested. They will arrange for the test.

You will only be tested if your doctor decides you meet the criteria:

  • You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
  • You have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days and you develop respiratory illness with or without fever
  • You have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause
  • You are a healthcare worker who works directly with patients and you have a respiratory illness and a fever

There is a global shortage of the test kits that pathologists use to diagnose COVID-19. This is why we are doing targeted testing instead of widespread testing.

After testing

It may take a few days for the test results to come back.

If you have serious symptoms you will be kept in hospital and isolated from other patients to prevent the virus spreading.

If your doctor says you are well enough to go home while you wait for your test results, you should:

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

National Coronavirus Helpline

Call this line if you are seeking information on COVID-19. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

View contact

Learn more about what happens if you have a suspected case of coronavirus.

Treatment

There is no treatment for COVID-19, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms.

Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

Resources

See our answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19

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

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

Support

Support is available if you are concerned about COVID-19 or are distressed because you are in self-quarantine or sick.

Visit the Head to Health website for:

  • 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
Last updated: 
30 March 2020

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