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Symptoms and testing

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

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If you have symptoms, get tested

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, even mild symptoms, should get tested at a COVID-19 testing clinic.

Call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line for information about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080

Translating and interpreting services are available on 131 450.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • fever (37.5 ° or higher)
  • cough
  • sore/scratchy throat
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of smell or
  • loss of taste.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • fatigue
  • runny nose
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea/vomiting or
  • loss of appetite.

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, or 
  • by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

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.

How testing for COVID-19 works

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

Testing clinics operate in locations all over NSW. Find your closest testing clinic

Some clinics may need you to make an online or phone booking. On the testing clinics page you can find out:

  • where a clinic is located
  • when a clinic is open  
  • whether you need make booking. 

If you’ve been tested for COVID-19 at a NSW Health public hospital fever clinic, COVID-19 clinic or emergency department, you can receive your result securely via:

Results will typically be available 24 to 72 hours after testing.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you'll be contacted directly by a public healthcare professional as a priority.

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 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.

Negative result

  • 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 a SMS.
  • If you have not registered for SMS, you will be contacted by phone by your local Public Health Unit.

Positive result 

You will be called by a doctor or your local Public Health Unit who will tell you what you need to do. 

People who should get tested

Anyone with a cough, a sore or scratchy throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste, loss of smell or a fever (37.5° or higher) should be tested for COVID-19, even if symptoms are mild.

Most people without these symptoms do not require testing.

As well as people who have COVID-19 symptoms, there are other people who should consider testing. 

Testing is recommended for people who have recent onset of both respiratory symptoms and fever, and work in:

  • healthcare
  • aged care and other residential care facilities
  • high-risk clinical settings.

Healthcare workers who have either fever or respiratory symptoms, should be assessed for testing on an individual basis.

Testing is recommended for those who are at increased risk. This includes people who are:

  • admitted to hospital with acute respiratory illness or unexplained fever
  • experiencing acute respiratory illness or fever in high risk settings such as hospitals, aged care and other residential facilities, boarding schools and cruise ships.
  • experiencing unexplained respiratory symptoms or fever who self-identify as Aboriginal or live in Aboriginal rural and remote communities.

Testing is recommended for travellers returned from overseas who experience respiratory symptoms or fever within 14 days of return.

Quarantine orders

Public Health Orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community detail the rules regarding isloation 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 don’t comply with these orders. 

Find out about testing if you have:

  • been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case

  • had COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of your last contact with that person.

Anyone who works in a school community and has symptoms should come forward for testing. Tell your doctor or testing provider if you have had contact with high-risk settings. 

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 Raisingchildren 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 Raisingchildren 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.


Last updated: 10 July 2020

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