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Symptoms and testing

Learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of COVID-19, and about testing at NSW Health facilities.

Have symptoms?

Come forward and get tested even if you only have mild symptoms like a cough. You can help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

COVID-19 is notifiable

Under the NSW Public Health Act 2010, doctors and pathology laboratories are required to notify NSW Health of all people suspected or confirmed to have the infection.

Find a testing clinic

Testing clinics now operate all over NSW. Find the clinic that’s closest to you. Results can be sent by SMS if you have a MyServiceNSW account.

On this page

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore/scratchy throat and
  • shortness of breath.

Other reported symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • loss of smell
  • loss of taste
  • runny nose
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea/vomiting and
  • loss of appetite.

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

Anyone with respiratory symptoms (such as cough, sore/scratchy throat or shortness of breath) or unexplained fever should be tested for COVID-19.

People without symptoms do not require testing, except in special circumstances

Entry checking at NSW Health facilities

New measures to protect patients, staff and visitors

From 17 April 2020, all NSW public hospital and health services will require staff and visitors to be screened when entering a NSW Health facility.

These additional measures will help identify anyone who may require testing and increase current layers of protection for patients, staff and visitors.

Screening will involve

  • temperature checks using an approved temperature monitoring device to accurately measure the presence of fever
  • questions about the potential for contact with a COVID-19 positive case including
    • Have you returned from overseas travel (or a cruise ship) in the last 14 days?
    • Have you had any close contact with a COVID-19 positive case?
    • Do you have any flu-like symptoms?

If a visitor answers yes to any of the screening questions or has a temperature, they will be advised

  • not to visit the hospital
  • to go to the closest COVID-19 Clinic for review.

If a staff member answers yes to any of the screening questions or has a temperature, the staff member will be

  • asked to go to the closest COVID-19 Clinic for review
  • advised to stay home until the temperature resolves
  • advised to follow the usual sick leave protocol.

Staff members who answer no to all screening questions and do not have a temperature will have a coloured sticker placed on their Hospital ID badge which must be clearly displayed while on duty.

Staff will be screened daily on entry to any facility and a different coloured sticker will be provided each day.

While many private hospitals already have similar screening requirements in place, NSW Health will work with the healthcare sector to ensure a consistent approach across the state.

Advice for health professionals

Testing is recommended for a person with fever (≥38°C) or history of fever (such as night sweats, chills) or acute respiratory infection (with symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) who meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • a close contact in the 14 days prior to illness onset with a confirmed case
  • international travel in the 14 days prior to illness onset
  • a cruise ship passenger or crew member who has travelled in the 14 days prior to illness onset
  • a healthcare worker
  • an aged care or other residential care worker
  • in a geographically localised area with elevated risk of community transmission – see Locally acquired cases and clusters in NSW

Testing is recommended for a person with fever (≥38°C) or history of fever (such as night sweats, chills) or acute respiratory infection (with symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) in the following settings where there are two or more cases of illness clinically consistent with COVID-19:

  • aged care and other residential care facilities
  • military operational settings
  • boarding schools
  • correctional facilities
  • detention centres
  • Aboriginal rural and remote communities, in consultation with the local Public Health Unit
  • settings where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred, in consultation with the local Public Health Unit – see Locally acquired cases and clusters in NSW

Testing is recommended for hospitalised patients with fever (≥38°C) and acute respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) of an unknown cause.

Please note that these criteria have recently been expanded to recommend testing of individual patients with symptoms or fever suspected to have COVID-19:

  • who live in communities with local transmission, see: Confirmed cases in NSW by Local Government Area
  • who live in remote Aboriginal communities  
  • who have been referred by their GP or public health unit to a COVID-19 clinic for testing
  • whose clinician, after taking a full history, has reason to suspect that the patient may have COVID-19.

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.

When COVID-19 symptoms appear

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

For this reason, people who might have been in contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 (or the flu):

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water
  • cough into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately put the tissue in the bin
  • if unwell, avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 metres from people).

How COVID-19 is diagnosed

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

Samples for testing can be taken:

  • directly by GPs
  • at private pathology sites across NSW suitable for collection of COVID-19
  • at public hospitals across NSW, including COVID-19 clinics.

If you are awaiting test results

If a doctor suspects you may have COVID-19 infection, follow the advice from NSW Health until your doctor or the public health unit advises that you no longer need to be in isolation.

NSW Health advice for people suspected to have COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection.

Visit NSW Health for more detailed advice on:

Register for test results via SMS 


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:

  • SMS and email, if you have a MyServiceNSW Account, and 
  • a push notification, if you also have the Service NSW mobile app.

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.

Notification to NSW Health

Public health staff will investigate all cases to:

  • find out how the infection occurred
  • identify other people at risk of infection
  • implement control measures and
  • provide other advice.

Last updated: 15 May 2020

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