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Symptoms and testing

Learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of COVID-19, and how testing works.

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Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms 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 include:

  • fatigue
  • acute blocked nosed (congestion)
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea/vomiting
  • 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.

How COVID-19 is spread

Human coronaviruses are spread from someone infected with COVID-19, to other people in close contact:

  • through contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing
  • by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

COVID-19 case locations

When COVID-19 symptoms appear

The amount of time between exposure to the virus and the first appearance of symptoms is usually 5 to 6 days, although it may range from 2 to 14 days.

People who might have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19 should self-isolate for 14 days.

You should prevent the spread of viruses, by keeping your hands clean, not touching your face and keeping your distance from other people.

Getting tested

Infection with COVID-19 is diagnosed by finding the virus in samples of respiratory fluid taken from the back of the nose and/or throat, or from the lungs.

The samples are taken at testing clinics, which operate across NSW. You can be tested at:

  • COVID-19 clinics, set up especially for testing
  • some private pathology sites 
  • some GPs.

Find nearest testing clinics

Testing is free and quick.

  • A doctor or nurse will ask you about your symptoms to check for symptoms of other serious illnesses.
  • You may also be asked how we can support you. 
  • A sample of fluid may be taken from inside your nose and/or your throat using a sterile cotton-tipped medical swab.
  • No preparation is needed for a swab.
  • The swab is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

You must go straight home and self-isolate until you get your test result.

  • You cannot leave your home unless it is to seek medical care or because of an emergency. You cannot have visitors.
  • Monitor how you feel. If symptoms become serious (e.g. shortness of breath at rest or difficulty breathing), call Triple Zero (000). Tell the ambulance staff you have been tested for COVID-19.
  • If you are sharing your home with others, you should separate yourself from them as much as possible. Wear a surgical mask when you are in the same room as another person and keep 1.5 metres away. 
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

Getting your results

Information on how to register for an SMS result is provided when you get tested.

Results typically take 24 to 72 hours. Most people in NSW receive their test result within 24 hours.

If you’ve been tested at a public hospital clinic or emergency department, you can also receive your result securely via

If you haven't received your results, contact the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 for advice.

If the test is negative

A negative test result means you do not have COVID-19.

  • If the lab finds that you do not have COVID-19, and you were tested at a COVID-19 clinic or public hospital ED and registered for text alerts, you will receive an SMS on your phone.
  • If you have not registered for SMS, you will receive a phone call from your local Public Health Unit.

If the test is negative and you are a person who

  • is a close contact of another person with COVID-19
  • is in-home quarantine due to overseas travel
  • has been advised by the Public Health Unit to remain in isolation

You must continue to follow the relevant guidelines for self-isolation and remain in isolation for 14 full days.

If the test is positive

A positive test result means you have COVID-19.

If the test is positive your doctor or the public health unit will provide you with advice.

The local public health unit will also contact you to interview you and identify your close contacts. The guidelines for people who have confirmed COVID-19 infection apply.

People who should get tested

If you have a fever (37.5° or higher), cough, sore or scratchy throat, shortness of breath, runny nose, or loss of taste or smell, you should get tested for COVID-19, even if your symptoms are mild. 

It is important to maintain high testing rates to identify as many cases in the community as quickly as possible.

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

You should get tested even if you only have one of the symptoms.

As well as people who have COVID-19 symptoms, there are other people who should get tested, including close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases and travellers arriving from overseas.

Healthcare workers, disability and aged care workers, people at increased risk of severe disease and school community workers should be particularly careful in monitoring for symptoms and get tested if they appear.

A casual contact is someone who has been near a confirmed case of COVID-19 while they were infectious but is considered at lower risk than a close contact.

Some casual contacts however may have a higher risk of infection associated with an exposure and these people are asked to get tested immediately and isolate until a negative test result is received. People with a lower risk of exposure are only asked to monitor for symptoms.

Casual contacts might have been in a closed space at the same time as an identified case, but for shorter periods than those required for a close contact. Settings for casual contacts may include healthcare facilities, schools, public transport, public places, businesses or offices.

NSW Health assesses settings and interactions to determine the level of risk, which change as further information becomes available. If you have been reassessed as a close contact you will need to isolate for 14 days per the close contact guidelines.

You need to isolate yourself in your home or another suitable place of residence if you have been identified as a close contact of a person with confirmed COVID-19 infection.

A close contact is someone who has been near enough to a person with COVID-19 while they were infectious that there is a reasonable chance they will have become infected with COVID-19. Close contact can occur in a number of places including in the home, or at other venues.

If you are a close contact, get tested:

  • immediately, regardless of symptoms
  • at any time during your 14 day isolation period if you get any symptoms. If you test negative, you still need to remain in isolation until the isolation period finishes.
  • again on day 12 of your isolation period. You must continue to self-isolate until you have completed your isolation period and have received a negative test result.

Tell the testing clinic that you are a close contact.

NSW Health provides latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW and the action you need to take if you have visited them.

Quarantine orders

Public health orders are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. The orders detail the rules regarding isolation and quarantine that travellers to NSW must follow.

  • If you arrive by air from outside Australia within 14 days before arriving, you must quarantine for 14 days.
  • If you arrive by sea from a port outside of NSW, you must quarantine for 14 days as directed by NSW Police.

Heavy penalties apply if you do not follow with the public health orders.

Travellers arriving from overseas are asked to get tested at the beginning of the quarantine period, before being released from quarantine and at any time they develop symptoms.

Some travellers will be asked to get tested at other times if they are thought to have been exposed to a more infectious strain of COVID-19. 

If you have spent time in quarantine and develop symptoms after leaving you should be tested for COVID-19.

Day care and preschool aged children (0-4 years)

  • If your child is sick, keep them at home.
  • If your child has symptoms like a runny nose, fever, cough or sore throat, call your GP.
  • In an emergency, please call Triple Zero (000) or go to your closest emergency department.
  • See the COVID-19 family guide.

Primary school children (5-11 years)

  • If your child is sick, keep them at home.
  • For primary school aged children with symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP and ask about getting your child tested.
  • If you visit a public testing clinic, check that your local clinic tests children 11 years and under.
  • See the COVID-19 family guide.

Secondary school children (12-17 years)

  • If your teenager is sick, keep them at home and get them tested for COVID-19.
  • If you visit a public testing clinic, check that your local clinic tests children 17 years and under.


Common questions about COVID-19 testing

You only need to have ONE symptom to get tested, and it can be mild.

If you have a symptom, don’t delay. Get tested and self-isolate straight away.

Testing for COVID-19 can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful.

Swabs are tested for COVID-19 and sometimes other viruses only. The COVID-19 swabs are not tested for drugs, cancer or anything else.

Yes, it’s safe to get tested. All medical staff wear protective gear and there’ll be a safe place to wait.

Testing is free at public testing clinics, even if you’re from overseas.

Testing is also free at private testing sites, however, as a referral is required, the General Practitioner (GP) may charge a fee for the initial consultation, and then again to receive the result from the GP.

No, you don’t need a Medicare card to get tested for COVID-19.

Related apps

Service NSW App

Service NSW

You can check in to COVID Safe businesses who are using their NSW Government QR Code, via the Service NSW app.


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