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Situation update

As restrictions are being eased and borders re-opened it is important that people with symptoms come forward for testing immediately. It is important to increase testing to ensure any new cases or outbreaks are identified and managed rapidly. There are a number of respiratory viruses circulating in the community and the only way to detect COVID-19 is to have a test.

Except in special circumstances, people who have recovered from COVID-19 should not be tested prior to release from isolation. See also Release from isolation.

There is no requirement for testing before returning to work. Requests for such swabs should be declined.

Increasing testing for COVID-19 in NSW for those with symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever (≥37.5°C), cough, sore throat, shortness of breath (difficulty breathing), runny nose loss of smell and loss of taste.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include fatigue, acute blocked nose (congestion), muscle pain, joint pain, headache, diarrhoea, nausea/vomiting and loss of appetite. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.

Unexplained chest pain and conjunctivitis have also been reported as symptoms of COVID-19.

If these symptoms present in the absence of any clinical focus of infection or alternate explanation of illness, they may indicate infection with COVID-19.

NSW Health recommends that anyone with any of the listed symptoms be tested for COVID-19.

This is especially important for:

  • anyone who lives or works in a high risk setting, including healthcare facilities, aged care and other residential facilities, schools, prisons, and other closed settings
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • people who are close contacts of a confirmed case
  • people who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days
  • anyone admitted to hospital

Please make sure any health care, aged care or disability support workers or residents are noted on the laboratory request form so their test can be prioritised.

Routine tests for acute pneumonia/pneumonitis should also be performed where indicated according to local protocols.

Special circumstances

Immunocompromised people who were confirmed cases, must have two PCR negative respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart at least 7 days after symptom onset, in addition to meeting the release from isolation criteria.

Asymptomatic people do not require testing, except in special circumstances, e.g. in certain high risk outbreak settings or returned travellers. For further advice, please see the COVID-19 control guideline for public health units or call the public health unit on 1300 066 055.

Testing for COVID-19

Testing for COVID-19 in primary and tertiary care settings requires the collection of nasal and throat swabs. See details of testing technique.

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) for the health care worker (HCW) using contact and droplet precautions: gown, surgical mask, protective eyewear, gloves; and hand hygiene products.
  • If the patient has severe symptoms suggestive of pneumonia, contact and airborne precautions should be observed. The HCW should wear a P2/N95 respirator which should be fit checked.
  • Single swab for deep nasal and oropharyngeal collection (may be dacron or rayon, although flocked preferred) and transport medium (e.g. Universal Transport Medium (UTM), Viral Transport Medium (VTM), Liquid Amies). Dry swabs are not recommended.

Note the tube contains liquid so splashes, spills and leaks in transit must be prevented

There is no requirement to call the Public Health Unit before referring a patient for a test but they can provide additional advice or assistance if needed (1300 066 055).

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Please contact your Primary Health Network for access to masks.


Certain people are required to self-isolate in accordance with relevant Public Health Orders.

Self-isolation at home for 14 days is required for:

Supplementary information for people following NSW Health self-isolation guidelines is also available.

From 29 March 2020, all travellers arriving from overseas (except from New Zealand*) are required to undertake their mandatory 14 day quarantine at designated facilities (such as hotels). See also:

*On 25 January 2021, the Chief Health Officer specified areas of New Zealand as a hotspot. For more information on quarantine requirements for travellers who have been to hotspots, see the fact sheet for Travellers from New Zealand.  

Further links to information and guidelines are available on COVID-19 self isolation guidelines and information.

Case and close contact definitions

Please refer to the most recent CDNA guidelines for current definitions of cases and close contacts.

Further resources

For the most recent advice for health professionals please refer to Updated advice for health professionals.

There are a number of COVID-19 resources for health professionals on the NSW Health website (e.g. posters, fact sheets, in-language information).​​​​

Current as at: Tuesday 26 January 2021
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW