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

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms include fever, coughing, a sore throat and shortness of breath. The virus can spread from person to person. Currently there is no treatment for COVID-19. 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 a disease caused by a new form of 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 symptoms such as:

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

Other symptoms can include runny nose, 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 are encouraged to get tested.

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 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 correctional and detention facilities
  • people in group residential settings

People who are, or are more likely to be, at higher risk of serious illness if they get the virus are:

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.

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

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 coronavirus (COVID-19) or help with the COVIDSafe app. 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 you have had with someone who has COVID-19

GP respiratory clinics

Find out below if there is a GP respiratory clinic near you and how to register for an appointment:

Testing

The criteria for having a test for COVID-19 are updated regularly as new evidence becomes available. Testing diagnoses patients with COVID-19 and also helps health authorities monitor and track the spread of COVID-19.

People with mild symptoms can still spread the virus. To help stop the resurgence and spread of COVID-19, anyone with symptoms of an acute respiratory infection should get tested.

The symptoms include:

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

If you have one or more of these symptoms, even mildly, it is important you get tested as soon as possible. Early diagnosis means you can take steps to avoid spreading the virus to someone else.

If you have other symptoms that may occur with COVID-19 you should seek advice from your doctor or from healthdirect about whether you should get tested.

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 even more important if you have symptoms and any of the following apply to you:

  • you have returned from overseas in the past 14 days
  • you travelled on a cruise ship (either passenger or crew) in the 14 days before developing symptoms
  • 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

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. People who have recovered from COVID-19 need to be tested before they can go into high risk settings.

High-risk settings include: 

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

Where to get tested

You can:

  • contact your doctor and they will arrange the test
  • attend a respiratory or fever clinic

Respiratory or fever clinics are dedicated health centres around the country focusing on testing people with acute respiratory infection symptoms

Find the respiratory/fever clinic nearest to you. Your state or territory may have extra clinics where you can get tested. You can find them through your state or territory health website.

If your symptoms are serious, 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.

The Department of Health regularly reviews these criteria. 

After testing

It may take a day or two for your 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) or help with the COVIDSafe app. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

View contact

Treatment

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

COVID-19 is caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

Some reports suggest certain drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, can be used to treat COVID-19. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not approved hydroxychloroquine, or any other drug, for treating COVID-19, in Australia

We are supporting research to find effective treatments for the virus. There is no approved vaccine for COVID-19, but global efforts to develop a vaccine continue.

Limits on medications

Many Australians need medication to manage a health condition. Medication shortages can threaten lives.

To make sure everyone has access to the medications they need, pharmacies must limit sales of some prescription and over the counter medications.

Learn more about limits on prescribing hydroxychloroquine and limits on other prescription and over-the-counter medications.

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.

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.

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

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

Visit the Head to Health website or the Beyond Blue coronavirus online and phone support service 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: 
28 May 2020

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