COVID-19 and you

Find out more about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. 

 
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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease) is the infectious disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. It is a new strain of coronavirus that first started causing severe disease symptoms in people around December 2019.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections in the respiratory system of the human body. This is the system that takes care of breathing and includes the nose, throat, airways and lungs.

Researchers from around the world have reported that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to have come from bats. Changes in the virus allowed it to spread to other animals and then eventually humans. Viruses that originally came from animals have caused many human diseases over time, including SARS, Ebola, smallpox and measles.

The disease COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world after it was first identified among people in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

Find out more from healthdirect

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • tiredness
  • difficulty breathing – this is an emergency symptom – call 000 immediately
  • headache
  • muscle pain (myalgia)
  • joint pain
  • loss of sense of smell (anosmia)
  • distortion of sense of taste (dysgeusia)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite

Symptoms differ from person to person and for some people, may be very mild. These symptoms are not unique to COVID-19, and most people who experience some of them will have another illness, such as a cold or flu. Always speak with a doctor if you are concerned about your symptoms, especially if there is a chance you have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Use the healthdirect symptom checker

How does it spread?

At the moment the SARS-CoV-2 virus is thought to spread mainly by close contact from person to person. Some people with the virus have few or no symptoms of COVID-19 but can still pass it on.

You can catch it through:

  • close contact with a person who is infectious, which includes up to 48 hours before they feel sick at all
  • contact with virus-containing droplets from an infected person’s coughs or sneezes
  • touching objects that have virus-containing droplets on them, such as doorknobs or tables, and then touching your mouth or face.

Find out more from healthdirect about how COVID-19 spreads

Find out more from the Australian Government about how COVID-19 spreads

How can I avoid catching or spreading the virus?

There are many ways to avoid catching the virus or spreading it to others:

  • Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination (if you are able/eligible)
  • Good hygiene (regular hand washing with soap and running water)
  • Wearing a mask
  • Physical distancing (especially when inside or where there is not a lot of fresh air)
  • Getting tested for COVID-19 if you have any cold or flu symptoms
  • Isolation if you have the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or could have been exposed to it.

If you test positive for the virus, you will have to isolate for at least 7 days. If you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 you must isolate for 7 days from the last time you were in contact with that person.

Hygiene and distancing

Good hygiene

You can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce your chance of becoming ill by:

  • washing your hands well and often with soap and running water
  • using alcohol-based hand sanitiser when soap and water is not available
  • avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you use often, such as desks, benches and doorknobs
  • cleaning and disinfecting items you use often, such as phones, keys and work passes
  • using contactless cards instead of keypads or cash

Find out more from the Australian Government about good hygiene for COVID-19

Physical distancing

If there is more space between you and other people, the virus can’t spread.

You can create this space by:

  • staying at least 1.5 metres away from others wherever possible
  • avoiding all physical greetings such as handshakes, hugs or kisses
  • practising extra care on public transport
  • avoiding crowds and large gatherings

Find out more from the Australian Government on physical distancing for COVID-19

Find out what your state or territory’s current situation is here:

Find out more from healthdirect about avoiding COVID-19

Find out more from the Australian government on how to protect yourself and others

How do I get tested?

There are two types of test that can detect if you have the COVID-19 virus:

  • polymerase chain reaction (PCR, or RT-PCR)
  • rapid antigen self-tests (RATs)

If you develop any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, or you have been in contact with a confirmed case, you should get tested. To find a clinic in your area visit:

The test involves taking a swab from the back of your nose and throat. The swab is then sent for testing. You need to isolate yourself until you get your results.

If your PCR test is negative, you will get a phone call or an SMS text message letting you know. If it is positive you will be called by a doctor or the Public Health Unit, and told what you need to do next.

You can purchase RATs from some supermarkets, pharmacies and retail outlets for private use.

From 24 January 2022, you can access free RATs if you hold an eligible Commonwealth concession card. You can access up to 10 RATs over a 3-month period (maximum of five RATs over a 1-month period) through community pharmacies.

Find out how to do a rapid antigen test (RAT)

Find out more from healthdirect about what happens when you are tested for COVID-19

What if I test positive?

If your test results are positive for COVID-19, you will be contacted by public health officials about contact tracing and you need to stay isolated to avoid passing the virus on.

If you test positive using a RAT, you may be required to let health authorities know or confirm your result with a PCR test. Follow your local health advice to register as a COVID-19 positive case.

If you have serious symptoms, you will need to go to hospital, where you will be isolated from other patients.

If you are well enough to be at home, you will need to isolate. You can only leave isolation after 7 days (10 days in South Australia), and if your symptoms have cleared up.

People who have had contact with you will have to isolate for 7 days after their last contact with you. If they develop symptoms, they will need to be tested at the nearest testing clinic as soon as possible. If they have no symptoms, they should take a RAT at home.

Find out more from healthdirect about what happens if you test positive

Isolation, quarantine and contact tracing

Isolation

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 , you must isolate yourself. You can only leave isolation after 7 days (10 days in South Australia), and if your symptoms have cleared up.

If your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, call a doctor for an urgent appointment.

If you develop a severe case, you will be isolated in hospital.

Quarantine

If you are at risk of having COVID-19, you must quarantine yourself. You may: 

  • have been in contact with someone who has a confirmed or probable case
  • have returned home from overseas
  • be entering a state or territory that has a required quarantine period.

Testing and quarantine requirements for international and interstate travel differ by state and territory. If you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination, most states and territories require you to isolate until you get a negative COVID-19 rapid antigen test result. If you are not up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccination, you need to go into mandatory hotel quarantine for at least 7 days (depending on the state or territory). 

Isolation or quarantine?

Isolation and quarantine have slightly different meanings, although they are often used interchangeably. The principle behind both is the same: stay away from people until you are no longer at risk of infecting them with the virus.

In both isolation and quarantine:

  • You must not go out or let in any visitors who do not live with you.
  • You will have to ask others to get you food and necessities. State and territory health agencies will help those who need it.
  • You can get prescriptions and medical help from home via telehealth. If you have not been diagnosed, but you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor to discuss getting tested.
  • There are fines and other penalties for breaking isolation and quarantine restrictions.

Find out more about isolation and quarantine from the Royal Australian College of GPs

Find out more from the Australian Government about isolation

Contact tracing

In Australia, all people with confirmed COVID-19 are subject to public health contact tracing, to try and find, test and treat anyone else who might have been infected. This is an important part of combatting the pandemic.

It’s a good idea for all of us to keep a record of anyone we are spending time with, just in case it is needed.

Find out more about the COVIDSafe app

How is COVID-19 treated?

There are several medicines approved for treating COVID-19 in Australia for people with the illness. These are not intended to be used as a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.
Oral treatments
are available for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, who do not require supplemental oxygen and are at increased risk of serious illness. These can be given in your home without the need to travel to hospital for treatment as an inpatient.

Most people with COVID-19 have only a few mild symptoms and get better within days or a couple of weeks. Treatment for mild infection is usually rest, plenty of fluids and medicines to help manage aches, pain or fever. This type of treatment is just about managing the symptoms and letting your immune system fight the virus.

Some people may end up feeling unwell for many weeks or even months. This condition has been described as 'long COVID'.

COVID-19 is an infection caused by a virus. Antibiotics will have no effect on it. Some experimental medicines are being tested in Australian hospitals. Special conditions apply to those who can be part of these trials.

What should I do to stay healthy?

The best things you can do to stay healthy are:

  • stay up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccination by getting a booster dose
  • maintain your usual health and medicine routines, including taking any regular medicines and seeing your doctor as normal
  • get some regular exercise, fresh air and sunshine while respecting social distancing
  • eat a healthy diet
  • sleep well
  • look after your mental health
  • maintain good hygiene (eg, hand sanitising) and respect any physical distancing and mask wearing requirements.

Find out more about staying healthy during COVID-19

Other reliable information

Where can I find good information about COVID-19 in Australia