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

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, sneezes or deep breaths
  • 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 four ways to avoid catching the virus or spreading it to others:

  • Good hygiene
  • Physical distancing
  • Following the rules for public and social gatherings
  • Self-isolation, or quarantine, 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 self-isolate for at least 10 days. Public health officials will trace everyone you have been in contact with and let them know they have been exposed to the virus. They will need to quarantine themselves and/or be tested.

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 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 (and social) 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 people outside your household
  • observing the limit of 1 person per 4 square metres of indoor space
  • avoiding all physical greetings such as handshakes, hugs or kisses
  • refusing to enter crowded spaces
  • moving away from people who are coming towards you
  • keeping to the rules in your state or territory about visits between households. If you are allowed to have visitors at home, you still need to stay 1.5 metres away from them, and it is probably better to be outdoors.

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

Limits on public and social gatherings

Limits on public and social gatherings differ between states and territories. They also change as the COVID-19 pandemic develops, and as measures start to take effect.

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

Self-isolation, quarantine and contact tracing

Self-isolation

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 , you must self-isolate. This means, if you are well enough to stay at home, you must stay there for at least 10 days AND at least 3 days after any symptoms are gone. Public health officers will contact you every day to check on your condition and let you know when it’s safe to return to normal activities.

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, because you have been in contact with someone who has a confirmed case, or you have travelled from overseas since 15 March 2020, you must quarantine yourself.

This means staying isolated at home or in a hotel room for 14 days, to see if you become ill. If you have symptoms during this time, you need to be tested for COVID-19 and if the result is positive, you move into a new period of self-isolation.

Even if the result is negative, you should stay quarantined for 14 days.

Self-isolation or quarantine?

Self-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 self-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 self-isolation and quarantine restrictions.

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

Find out more from the Australian Government about self-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. Australians have also been encouraged to download the government’s COVIDSafe smartphone app.

Find out more about the COVIDSafe app

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 do I get tested?

If you develop any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, or you have been in contact with a confirmed case, speak with a doctor to find out if you should have a diagnostic test. This type of testing is available across Australia. To find a clinic in your area visit:

If you decide to see your own GP, call first to find out the best way to get tested.

Depending on your test centre and your state or territory, you may need to get a GP referral first, and you may need to pay for the test. It’s a good idea to bring your Medicare card and some form of ID.

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

If your 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.

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 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 self-isolate there until public health officials tell you it’s safe for you to go back to normal activities. This will usually be at least 10 days after your first symptoms AND 3 days after all your symptoms are gone.

People who have had contact with you will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days after their last contact with you. If they develop symptoms, they will need to be tested.

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

How is COVID-19 treated?

There is no proven effective treatment for COVID-19 yet. Medical care for this condition is supportive, which means that treatment is intended to manage your symptoms and keep you going while your body clears the infection.

Most cases of COVID-19 are mild to moderate and resolve in days or weeks. Treatment for mild cases is often rest, plenty of fluids and medicines to help manage aches, pain or fever.

Other cases are severe or critical and can result in death. These cases need hospital care.

It is not yet known whether there are long-term effects of COVID-19 on survivors, or what these might be.

COVID-19 is a viral infection and antibiotics have no effect on it. Some experimental medicines are being tested in Australian hospitals. Special conditions apply to who can be part of these trials.

What should I do to stay healthy?

The best things you can do to stay healthy are:

  • wash your hands, stay 1.5 metres from people who are not part of your household, and respect the limits on public gatherings
  • 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 fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet
  • sleep well
  • don't drink too much alcohol
  • maintain contact with family and friends over the phone or internet
  • get a flu vaccination
  • look after your mental health.

Find out more about staying healthy during COVID-19

Other reliable information

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