Visit NSW Government - Coronavirus (COVID-19) for the latest advice and information for community and businesses, including information about COVID-19 symptoms, testing and physical distancing.

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About COVID-19

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV2, a new strain of coronavirus that has not previously been identified in humans. It was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in 2019, where it caused a large and ongoing outbreak. It has been declared a global pandemic. The COVID-19 virus is closely related to a bat coronavirus.

Outbreaks of new coronavirus infections among people are always a public health concern. The situation is continually evolving.

Further information about COVID-19 is available at:

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • fever (37.5 ° or higher)
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
  • runny nose
  • loss of taste
  • loss of smell.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include fatigue, acute blocked nose (congestion), muscle pain, joint pain, headache, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite.

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

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.

If you have any symptom(s) of COVID-19, even if it is mild, don't delay, please get tested and isolate while you wait for your test results.

While some people don't develop symptoms at all, for people who do develop symptoms these typically appear five to six days after exposure to the virus. However, it is possible that symptoms can appear anytime from between 1 and 14 days after being exposed to the virus.

What are the variants of concern? How are they detected?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, like other viruses, is continually undergoing changes in in its genetic structure (genome). Think of the genome as a blueprint that shows a cell how to create more of the virus. Every time someone is infected with a virus there is an opportunity for the virus to change a little. Most of the time, these changes don't make the virus more dangerous, though they can help us to work out where particular cases of the virus originated. However, sometimes the virus can change in ways that make it easier for the virus to spread, or to make people sicker, or both. When this happens, the World Health Organisation uses the name "variants of concern".

Variants of SARS-CoV-2 are identified by looking at the genetic code of the virus ("genome sequencing") and comparing the sequence of genetic material to that of other SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

In NSW many swabs, including those from people in quarantine have their genome sequenced. This allows us to detect new variants of the virus and helps to confirm where the particular strain has come from.

What is the Delta variant?

The Delta variant of concern was first identified in October 2020. It causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Delta variant is easily transmitted to household members of positive cases and has also been associated with infections in workplace and high-density housing settings such as apartments.

Data suggests that the Delta variant causes more severe illness and increased number of hospitalisations than previous strains of COVID-19 in unvaccinated persons.

Fully vaccinated people can still spread the virus to others. However, vaccinated people appear to be infectious for a shorter period, and have a much lower chance of developing severe illness. The greatest risk of transmission is among unvaccinated people who are much more likely to contract, and therefore transmit the virus.

How is COVID-19 spread?

The virus can spread from an infected person's mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe heavily. These liquid particles are different sizes, ranging from larger 'respiratory droplets' to smaller 'aerosols'.

Current evidence suggests that the main way the virus spreads is by respiratory droplets among people who are in close contact with each other.

People can catch COVID-19 when the virus gets into their mouth, nose or eyes. This is more likely to happen when people are in direct or close contact (less than 1 metre apart) with an infected person. For this reason, we generally recommend physical distancing of 1.5m and wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible. See up-to-date recommendations on physical distancing. The virus can also spread after infected people sneeze, cough on, or touch surfaces, or objects, such as tables, doorknobs and handrails. Other people may become infected by touching these contaminated surfaces, then touching their eyes, noses or mouths without having cleaned their hands first.

People may be highly infectious before their symptoms show. Even people with mild or no symptoms can spread COVID-19.

Vaccinated people are less likely to spread COVID-19.

How long does the virus last on surfaces?

Early research suggests that the length of time that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment). Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

If you think a surface may be contaminated, clean it with a common household disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose until you have washed or sanitised your hands.

See more information on how to protect yourself and others.

Can it be spread in the air or outdoors?

Yes, COVID-19 can be transmitted both in the air and outdoors.

The SARS-CoV2 virus can be spread from person to person through airborne droplets or aerosols containing the virus. Aerosols are tiny, invisible particles that are expelled when people talk, sing, shout, cough or sneeze. Aerosols can remain in the air for some time and can build up if there is not enough ventilation, for example, if a group of people sing or speak loudly in an indoor space without windows or doors open.

While COVID-19 can spread outdoors, transmission is much more common indoors where there is less space to physically distance and aerosols can stay in the air.

Can it be spread in swimming pools and baths?

Ocean pools and baths are filled with untreated sea water, which is refreshed naturally by the tides or cleaned by local services.

The risk of contracting COVID-19 through swimming in ocean pools and baths is considered low. The greatest risk is having conversations with fellow bathers or in an indoor change room.

If you are going to a pool or ocean bath, you should:

  • stay at home if you're sick or have even mild COVID-19 symptoms (and get tested)
  • stay at home if you have been asked by health authorities to isolate
  • do not swim if you have had diarrhoea (of any cause)
  • shower with soap before swimming
  • keep 1.5 metres from other people, including when in the pool or in the change rooms
  • go to the pool in off-peak times
  • contact the local council or responsible authority if you find that the pool and its surrounds aren't clean

What are the long-term health impacts of COVID-19?

Evidence to-date suggests that COVID-19 can cause medium to long-term illness in some people.

Most people experience mild symptoms and recover from the virus in under 2 weeks, however if people do develop long-term health impacts, symptoms most commonly persist for 2 to 8 weeks after infection. There have been reports that some people experience symptoms for over 12 weeks. Ongoing illnesses can include:

  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • cough
  • change of sense of smell or taste.

Less common symptoms could include insomnia, low-grade fevers, headaches, neurocognitive (memory and concentration) difficulties, aching muscles and weakness, gastrointestinal symptoms, rash and depression.

For additional information please see the Release and Recovery from COVID-19 fact sheet.

Who is most likely to experience serious illness if infected with COVID-19?

Those who are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected include:

  • people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19
  • people 65 years and older with chronic medical conditions
  • people with compromised immune systems (e.g. from cancer)
  • people with diagnosed with chronic medical conditions
  • people 70 years and older Aboriginal people with one or more chronic medical conditions.

The Delta strain of COVID-19 can be contracted by people of all age groups, with more people under 40 years of age admitted to hospital for treatment of serious COVID-19 symptoms compared to other variants.

The Australian Department of Health has more information about people who are most at risk of serious illness with COVID-19.

What settings are at higher risk of outbreaks of COVID-19?

A high-risk setting is any place where COVID-19 might spread more easily due to environmental factors, and/or where the effects of an outbreak would be more serious due to health vulnerabilities among residents or patrons.

These include health quarantine facilities and transportation; healthcare and aged care facilities; residential disability care facilities; crowded or high-density housing; prisons; boarding schools; homeless shelters and residential/crisis hostels; Aboriginal communities, particularly in rural and remote areas; and food processing, distribution and cold storage facilities, including abattoirs.

The Delta strain of COVID-19 is also more easily spread in home and workplace settings.

Are there risks to children and babies?

Women infected with the coronavirus can, in very rare cases, pass the disease to their baby. Infants can also become infected shortly after being born. According to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most newborns who test positive for the coronavirus have mild symptoms or none at all, and recover, but serious cases have occurred.

Generally, COVID-19 symptoms in children and babies are milder than those in adults, and some infected children may not have any signs of being sick at all.

Please see guidance for maternity and newborn care and schools, universities and childcare (early childhood education centres) for further information.

I am pregnant, what do I need to know?

Guidance for pregnant women and new parents answers a number of frequently asked questions.

Getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 impacting you or your baby.

How is COVID-19 detected in NSW?

Diagnosis in individuals (nose-throat swabs)

The most common way to be diagnosed with a COVID-19 infection is to do a polymerase chain reaction test, also called a 'PCR test'. The most common way to do this is with a respiratory sample (a swab) from the nose and throat. Sometimes only a sample from the nose or throat is collected. If you need a COVID-19 test and can't go to a testing clinic, refer to COVID-19 testing at home.

Rapid antigen testing is also available for employers, industries, schools and government agencies. For further information see Rapid Antigen Testing

On 1 October 2021 the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) made a new regulation that allows companies to formally apply for TGA regulatory approval to legally supply their self-tests for use at home in Australia after 1 November 2021. For further information please go to the TGA website.

Refer to COVID-19 clinics for a list of currently available testing locations.

Diagnosis in returned travellers (hotel quarantine)

From November 1 2021 all Australian citizens returning to Sydney will not need to undergo hotel quarantine for 14 days provided they are fully vaccinated and have received a negative COVID-test within 72 hours of arrival. Australian citizens who are not fully vaccinated will be required to go into hotel quarantine for a period of at least 14 days. For further information please visit NSW Government - Quarantine in NSW – what you need to know.

Screening in local areas (sewage surveillance)

The NSW Sewage Surveillance Program tests untreated sewage for fragments of the COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) virus at more than 60 sewage treatment plants across NSW. This screening provides important data to support NSW Health's COVID-19 response. It can indicate that there is untraced COVID-19 in the community, and prompt the community to be extra vigilant about COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested. However, virus fragments found in sewage cannot tell us which individuals are or have been infected with COVID-19. They also cannot show whether the infection is active or is a past infection.

NSW Health reports the areas in NSW where there have been COVID-19 virus fragments detected in sewage. If you live in any of these areas you should monitor for symptoms. If you have even the mildest of symptoms (even if it appears to be a cold), get tested and isolate immediately. Symptoms such as a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, tiredness, fever or other symptoms could be COVID-19. Additional information is available at Sewage Surveillance Program.

Preventing transmission

COVID-19 vaccination update

All people aged 12 and over in NSW are strongly urged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their families and their community.

For general information about COVID-19 vaccines see COVID-19 Vaccination in NSW or visit the Australian Government Department of Health.

NSW Healthcare workers are required to have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by 30 November 2021, vaccinated is also mandatory for people who work in aged care facilities, home care community services, also anyone who provides services to people with a disability and education and care workers. For further information see Public Health Orders.

What are the best ways to prevent spread of COVID-19?

Some simple measures to significantly reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and of spreading it include:

  • Get vaccinated and keep your vaccination up to date with any recommended booster doses.
  • Regularly clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand rub/sanitiser.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing or use your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands after coughing or sneezing, and before touching your face or eating.
  • Avoid contact with people who are unwell with cold or flu-like symptoms, and seek testing and immediately self-isolate if you develop any symptoms.
  • Always wash your hands before touching your face and eyes.
  • Greet people with a wave and a smile rather than close contact (such as hugging or kissing).
  • Maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from others as much as possible, and avoid crowded places.
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth when in public places, or as required in the current restrictions.
  • Show your care to loved ones in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical treatment by non-face-to-face methods, such as phone, letters or social media.
  • Catch public transport in off-peak times, if you can.

More information on how to protect yourself and others is available.

I'm having visitors at my house, what can I do to make this COVID safe?

For the latest information on who can visit your home, please check the rules and restrictions for your area.

Following these simple tips helps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19:

  • Ensure that all people visiting your house are fully vaccinated.
  • Limit your visitors – celebrate on a smaller scale, don't have large, multi-generational gatherings.
  • Host your gathering outdoors and avoid the hottest part of the day.
  • If you need to meet indoors, keep doors and windows open so that fresh air can circulate. If you live in a high-rise or a building where you can't open the windows, use the roof top, courtyard, garden or other outdoor space.
  • Ask your guests to stay home if they feel unwell, to get tested and isolate until they receive their test results.
  • If you are unwell, don't have visitors and get tested immediately and self-isolate until you receive a negative result.
  • Limit the length of time spent with people who you don't live with. Keep gatherings smaller and shorter than usual.
  • Space chairs out to allow physical distancing.
  • Wash hands regularly, and place hand sanitiser on the table for your guests.
  • If you are unable to maintain 1.5 metres distance between guests, consider wearing and offering masks.

See information on what you can and can't do under the current rules.

Why, where and when do I need to wear a face mask?

There are currently requirements in place for mask use in NSW. For the latest information on when and where you must wear a mask, and what to do if you are unable to wear a mask, please visit Face mask rules.

Testing

Who should get tested for COVID-19?

NSW Health recommends that anyone with any COVID-19 symptoms should be tested for COVID-19. You must isolate until you receive a negative result. Follow the isolation information for people suspected to have COVID-19 infection.

Samples for testing can be taken at your local COVID-19 testing or drive-through clinic, and at a range of private pathology sites across the state, directly by some GPs, , or at public hospitals across NSW.

Refer to COVID-19 clinics for locations of NSW Health COVID-19 clinics

I am vaccinated but I have COVID-19 symptoms, should I get tested?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms you should get tested and isolate until you receive a negative result, even if you have had a COVID-19 vaccination.

The COVID-19 vaccination will substantially reduce the chance that you develop COVID-19, however no vaccine is completely effective. It takes a few weeks for your body to build up protection from the vaccine. Some people may still get COVID-19 despite having been vaccinated, and may transmit it to other people, including those that haven't been vaccinated. People who have been vaccinated usually develop a less severe illness.

I've been tested for COVID-19 because I have symptoms  – what do my household members need to do?

If you have tested because you have COVID-19 symptoms but you are not a contact, you should practice good hygiene and self-isolate away from your household members as much as possible until you receive your test result. They are not required to self-isolate while you wait to receive these results.

Different requirements apply for people who share a home with a close contacts and are unable to self-isolate away from each other. Please see the close contact fact sheet for more information.

I have asthma, seasonal allergies or another condition with symptoms that appear like COVID-19, should I get tested?

If you have an ongoing or seasonal condition that appears or feels like the symptoms of COVID-19 you should pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms. If you experience a change in your symptoms (even if you suspect it's just your first allergy attack of the season), or you are unsure, go and get tested. You may normally take medication to manage your condition, if you find that this medication is not having the usual effect, you should get tested immediately.

If your COVID-19 test result is negative, and you continue to have symptoms or recurrent allergies, talk with your GP about a management plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where should I go for testing?

There are many testing locations across NSW. Locations of testing facilities are listed at COVID-19 clinics.

Make sure you wear a surgical mask while you travel to get tested. You should travel directly to the doctor or COVID-19 clinic by foot, bike (where practical) or private car.

If you need a COVID-19 test and can't go to a testing clinic, refer to COVID-19 testing at home.

What does a negative COVID-19 test result mean?

A negative result means that COVID-19 is unlikely to be the cause of someone's current symptoms.

However, a negative test result in someone who is well does not guarantee that they have not been infected, as it may still be early in their illness.

If you are isolating because you have had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, a negative test result does not mean you can end your isolation. See the close contact fact sheet for further information on self-isolation and testing requirements. .

Do I need to get retested for COVID-19 if I get symptoms again but my first test result was negative?

A negative test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing. However, that does not mean you will not get COVID-19 in the future. If you experience symptoms again, such as a fever, cough, sore/scratchy throat, change in taste or smell, stuffy nose or shortness of breath, get tested and self-isolate until you receive a negative result.

How will I receive my COVID-19 test results?

NSW Health Pathology automatically delivers COVID-19 test results directly to you via SMS (text message).

If you've been tested for COVID-19 at a NSW Health public hospital fever clinic, COVID-19 clinic or emergency department you can sign up for the secure SMS service. Your local hospital health team will provide you with details on the simple steps to register.

Your sample will go to a specialist NSW Health Pathology COVID-19 laboratory for testing. You will typically receive your results in 24 to 48 hours, but please allow up to 72 hours.

Public healthcare professionals will continue to contact patients who test positive for COVID-19 as a priority.

GPs and a private pathology providers have similar systems for delivery of results. Please check with your GP or pathology provider about how they will provide your COVID-19 results.

For more information, contact NSW Health Pathology.

What if I don’t have Medicare?

You can still get a free COVID-19 test if you don't have Medicare, but please bring your Medicare card with you if you have one.

NSW Health will also waive the costs associated with procedures for ambulance transfers of people suspected to have COVID-19 infection, who are taken to NSW Health facilities for assessment and who are not eligible for Medicare.

If you test positive to COVID-19 and require treatment, NSW Health will also waive these costs. This includes waiving payment and debt recovery procedures for people seeking treatment at NSW Health facilities

Is COVID-19 testing free?

Testing is free at public testing clinics, even if you're from overseas. Testing is also free at private testing sites for people with the mildest of symptoms, however a referral is required for some private providers. Where a referral is required, your General Practitioner (GP) may charge a fee for the initial consultation, and then again to receive the result. If you require a COVID-19 test for travel clearance purposes, please visit a private pathology. Please note that charges may apply for COVID-19 testing services for travel. See the full list of COVID-19 clinics.

I need to get tested but I'm away from home, what should I do?

If you are out of your home and develop symptoms that could be COVID-19 (e.g. at work), you should get tested immediately at your closest testing clinic and then self-isolate at home until you receive a negative result. If you are a close contact or casual contact, please immediately identify yourself when you present for testing and follow the relevant public health advice for ongoing self-isolation.

If you are staying away from home when you become symptomatic or become aware that you are a COVID-19 contact, you should get tested immediately at your closest testing clinic and then self-isolate in your temporary accommodation if possible. Please read further information on testing or if you need to travel home.

Self-isolation

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means you must stay in your home or accommodation and stay completely separated from others, even if you are fully vaccinated or feel well.

Self-isolation means you cannot:

  • Go to work or school
  • Go to any public places (e.g. shops, parks, beaches)
  • Use public transport or ride share
  • Have any visitors in your home, unless they are providing healthcare, emergency maintenance or emergency services

You are only allowed to leave your home to get a COVID-19 test, for urgent medical care or in an emergency (including to avoid injury or escape the risk of harm from domestic violence). If you leave home for any of these reasons, you must travel by private vehicle, ride or walk. You must wear a face mask, stay 1.5m away from anyone else, travel directly to and from where you need to go and self-isolate in suitable accommodation as soon as possible.

Please see the Self-Isolation Guideline for further information.

I'm a casual contact, what should I do?

Being a casual contact means that you have been in contact with someone who is a confirmed case of COVID-19 while they were infectious. As a casual contact, you will have been in the same space as someone infected with COVID-19 for a short period of time.

If you have been identified as a casual contact, follow advice on the NSW Health fact sheet casual contacts.

I am a close contact, what do I need to do?

A close contact is someone who has been close enough to a person with COVID-19 (a ‘case’) while they were infectious, that they have a reasonable chance of also getting COVID-19. If you are a close contact, you may be notified either by the case, your employer, NSW Health (including by SMS) or by reading the latest COVID-19 case locations.

Read the testing and self-isolation requirements for close contacts.

I live with/have spent time close to someone who is a close contact - what do I need to do?

If you live with a close contact and they can self-isolate effectively alone, you do not need to self-isolate.

Other people who live with a close contact should minimise contact with them as much as possible during their period. This includes:

  • staying and sleeping in a separate room
  • using a separate bathroom if available, and cleaning all surfaces after each use
  • not being in the same room as the close contact
  • not sharing household items, such as dishes, cups, towels and bedding. These items should be washed thoroughly after use.

If you work in healthcare, aged care, disability or correctional facilities, it is important that you speak to your employer about returning to work.

See further information for close contacts.

I've been diagnosed with COVID-19, now what?

Information and support is available for you, the people you live with and others who care for you. Please see the NSW Health fact sheet for people diagnosed with COVID-19 infection and refer anyone you share a home with to the NSW Health fact sheet for close contacts.

For workers

Advice for tradespeople

If someone is self-isolating in their home as a COVID-19 case or close contact, tradespeople are only allowed to enter their home to conduct urgent repairs that ensure health, safety of people in the home. This includes repairs and maintenance work on essential utilities such as water, gas, electricity, internet, television and phone services or trades work for fire protection and safety.

Tradespeople entering someone’s home should wear PPE at all times. They must also not have any direct contact with any of the residents in the home, who must be in a separate room from where the work is taking place.

Advice for health professionals

NSW Health provides a range of advice and guidance for health professionals.

Further information

Is there any special advice for schools?

Please see the latest advice for schools from the NSW Education Department.

What am I allowed to do under current restrictions?

Information and updates on current restrictions in your local area, across NSW and for interstate travel is available.

Additional support

Financial support for individuals and households

If you're affected by COVID-19 and experiencing financial difficulty, please visit NSW Government - COVID-19 Support Package for information on what financial support is available.

Mental health support

Support is available by contacting one of the services below for support or talk to your general practitioner.

  • Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14 or Lifeline Australia
    A crisis support service that provides short term support at any time for people who are having difficulty coping or staying safe.
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551800 or Kids Helpline
    A free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 years.
  • NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
    Mental health crisis telephone service in NSW.

Advice for health professionals

NSW Health provides a range of advice and guidance for health professionals. Please return to NSW Health - COVID-19.


Current as at: Thursday 11 November 2021
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW