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, 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 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:

  • fever
  • symptoms such as coughing, a 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 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 24 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:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and older with one or more chronic medical conditions
  • people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions
  • people 70 years and older
  • people with compromised immune systems

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. 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

The Australian Government is establishing up to 100 GP respiratory clinics around the country to assess people who have a fever, a 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.

Generally you will be tested if you develop fever or respiratory symptoms and meet at least one the following criteria:

  • 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 travelled on a cruise ship (either passenger or crew) in the 14 days before developing symptoms
  • you are a health care, aged care or residential care worker
  • you have lived in an area where there is a higher risk of community transmission, as defined by the local public health unit

You should also be tested if you meet all of the following criteria: 

  • you are in hospital
  • you have fever and serious respiratory symptoms
  • there is no other clear cause of the symptoms

People in high-risk settings will be tested if there are 2 or more people with fever and respiratory symptoms in the setting.

High-risk settings include: 

  • aged and residential care facilities
  • detention centres or correctional facilities
  • boarding schools
  • military bases (including navy ships) that have live-in accommodation
  • rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Some states and territories may have more testing criteria based on their cases.

The Department of Health regularly reviews these criteria. 

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 coronavirus. 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.

Treating COVID-19

There is no treatment for COVID-19. Medical care can treat most of the symptoms. Antibiotics do not work on viruses.

Some reports suggest certain drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, can be used to treat COVID-19. No drugs have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for treating COVID-19.

Many Australians need medication to manage health conditions. 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.

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: 
2 April 2020

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