Novel coronavirus – COVID-19

by | Coronavirus - COVID-19, Respiratory Health

protect covid

What is the novel coronavirus 2019?

The virus causing the respiratory outbreak that started in Wuhan City, China, in late 2019 is a new strain (novel) of coronavirus that hasn’t previously been identified in humans. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found worldwide; some infect humans; some infect animals including bats. Other coronaviruses which have caused respiratory illness in humans include some common cold viruses, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The new coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2. The disease it causes has been officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (‘Co’ for coronavirus, ‘vi’ for virus,  ‘d’ for disease, and ’19’ for the year it was detected).


Coronaviruses cause respiratory illness, and the 2019 novel coronavirus symptoms include fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, leading to breathing difficulties. Muscle aches and tiredness are also symptoms. A person with COVID-19 may also have sore throat, headache, a runny nose or diarrhoea. Some people suffer from a loss of sense of smell or taste. Some people infected with coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

If severe the infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory distress, kidney failure and even death.

The incubation period of the virus may be as short as 2 days after exposure to as long as 2 weeks after exposure. Some people may be infectious before showing any symptoms, but most cases appear to be spread from people who have symptoms.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, such as respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) or fever, call your doctor (do not go there directly) or ring the Government’s National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

Call and tell them your situation, including your symptoms, travel history and any close contact you may have had with someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The helpline is operated 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

States and territories are publishing details of flights that have been identified as having had confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board, e.g. NSW Health Recent flights with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

All Australians should be able to access telehealth consultations (in some cases bulkbilled by Medicare) by telephone or video conferencing (such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype).

If you are advised to leave home to visit the doctor or a COVID-19 testing clinic, wear a surgical mask, if you have one, to protect other people. Stay at least 1.5 metres from others and cover your coughs and sneezes.

If you have respiratory symptoms, don’t go out – stay at home, unless you are going for testing.

Is there a test for COVID-19?

There is a test to diagnose COVID-19. The criteria for being tested have been expanded since earlier restrictions and anyone with acute respiratory symptoms, that’s cough, runny nose, sore throat or cold or flu symptoms, can get tested and is encouraged to do so.

Your GP or the National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080) can help with testing advice. COVID-19 testing clinics have been set up in some locations.  Individual state and territory health departments have up to date advice re testing on their websites. A searchable list and map of COVID-19 testing locations may help you locate a test centre.

In Australia, PCR tests are used to diagnose COVID-19. Medicare will cover the cost of the test. Several rapid antibody tests are being evaluated, but these are not suited to detecting infection in its early stages and are not suitable for diagnosis.

  • PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. These tests analyse and identify genetic material of the coronavirus. PCR tests detect the virus and can only diagnose people who are currently infected. PCR tests are good at detecting the virus early in the infection. They may detect the virus even before symptoms are present. The test is done by taking a throat and nasal swab. It may take 1-2 days to get the test results. After the test, you will need to remain isolated in your home until you have been cleared by public health authorities.
  • Rapid antibody tests. Several point-of-care finger-prick blood tests have been approved for use in Australia and will be assessed for their accuracy.  Antibody tests do not detect the virus and cannot detect early COVID infection. They detect specific antibodies your body has made to fight the infection.  But these antibodies may only be present starting from 5-7 days into the infection. This means the tests can give a false negative if done in the first days after a person is infected. This could lead to a person spreading the virus without knowing they are infected. Some people, such as the elderly, may not develop any antibodies at all. Where antibody tests might be useful is in detecting immunity in people who have already been exposed to the virus. These tests can give results in as little as 15 minutes.

Home tests are going on sale in other countries, such as the UK, but are prohibited in Australia.

How can you protect yourself?

The usual ways of protecting yourself against respiratory infection apply to protecting yourself against coronavirus. These include regular hand washing with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds), avoiding contact with anyone showing respiratory symptoms (such as coughing or sneezing), avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and staying more than 1.5 metres away from other people. Use only disposable tissues, and dispose of them immediately after use.

Respiratory viruses such as coronaviruses may be acquired by touching surfaces or objects contaminated by droplets or secretions from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, especially if you then go on to touch your mouth or face.

Regularly cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, light switches, bathroom and kitchen areas, will help minimise the spread of germs. Use household detergent or disinfectant.

You should also always practise good cough etiquette yourself.

In addition, scientists recognise that COVID-19 can be spread by the airborne route as well as by droplet infection. Airborne transmission is when the virus particles are carried in aerosols (particles suspended in the air). When a person coughs, talks or breathes, as well as large droplets which usually land within a couple of metres, tiny respiratory droplets are sent much further into the air where they can float for hours. They dry out while they float around, becoming even smaller, which makes them capable of penetrating deeper into the lungs. Avoiding spending time in crowded and poorly ventilated areas can reduce your risk of catching COVID-19. Ensure your house is well ventilated and airflow is good.

Face masks do not generally protect you from catching coronavirus, other than protecting you from large droplets emitted when people sneeze, cough or talk. However, face masks stop your respiratory secretions from reaching other people – a double layer face mask can even stop aerosol transmission. They also slow down the speed of your respiratory emissions, and so reduce the distance they travel. Face masks can prevent the transmission of the virus from infected people to others. This is important because you may be infected with coronavirus without showing any symptoms. Recommendations for wearing face masks vary among states and territories and depend upon the level of community transmission.

How can we stop the spread?

All Australians need to play their part to protect the broader community and also themselves. Following measures put in place to minimise and suppress the spread of the virus, the Australian Government has now put in place a 3-Step Framework for a COVIDSafe Australia. This outlines a pathway to easing and removing restrictions. Depending on the number of active cases the states and territories can ease (or strengthen) restrictions at their own pace. Check with your state government website for the most recent public health orders.

Some of the measures are:

  • COVIDSafe app. The Australian Federal Government launched a smartphone app for iPhones and Android phones on 26 April. The COVIDSafe app is designed to make contact tracing faster and more comprehensive. The app works by Bluetooth handshake and stores data on your phone of anonymised IDs from users who are within 1.5 metres of you for 15 minutes or more. Once a person tests positive for COVID-19, they are asked their permission to release the data from their phone to allow for fast contact tracing of close contacts. The app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store for free.
  • Stay home if you’re unwell.
  • Physical distancing. Australians must practise physical distancing by keeping at least 1.5 metres away from other people when outside their own homes. This is enforceable by law (in some states). Avoid physical greetings, such as handshakes. Use tap and pay instead of cash. Travel at quiet times. Abide by the instructions for physical distancing on public transport. Avoid crowds and at-risk groups.
  • Social gatherings. The number of people allowed to socially gather varies between the states and territories.
  • Face masks. Face masks or face coverings are mandatory or strongly encouraged outside the home in some states and territories. Face masks are useful when outside the home, when physical distancing can’t be maintained, in high-risk indoor areas, and in areas of high community transmission. You can make your own cloth face masks, if you don’t want to buy masks.
  • Interstate travel. There are limits to interstate travel in some states and territory, some quarantine measures, biosecurity areas, and some border closures.
  • Australian borders. These are closed to non-citizens and non-residents. Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas will be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine in a Government quarantine centre.

Aged care facilities – these have special restrictions in place. OPAN (Older Persons Advocacy Network) has information and support for older persons with concerns regarding the pandemic.

Donating blood – Australian Red Cross Lifeblood have introduced extra measures in Blood Donor Centres to keep donors 1.5 metres apart, whenever they can. The centres are open and need donations. You should make an appointment first.

Self-isolation and quarantine

You must self-isolate for 14 days if:

  • you have COVID-19
  • you have had close contact with someone who has been confirmed as having COVID-19 (from the date of your last exposure to that person).

In a measure introduced on midnight March 28, all international travellers arriving into Australia (including residents) are being quarantined for 14 days in Government quarantine centres, which include hotels. This is mandatory and replaces the previous requirement to self-isolate for 14 days (symptoms or not) which started midnight March 15.

What if I am told to isolate at home?

Do not leave your home unless it is an emergency. That means don’t go to work, school or childcare, or any public places. Stay home and practise good hygiene to protect those around you. Don’t allow any visitors into your home and limit your contact with those around you. Follow the Australian Government Department of Health’s advice on self-isolation at home. Avoid cooking or caring for other members of your family. Ask other people to get food and other necessities for you. Prescription medicines can be organised by telehealth and usually can be delivered to your home.

If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask inside, but if you are advised to leave the home for medical care, wear a surgical mask if you have one.

Monitor yourself for symptoms. If you start to feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, ring your GP urgently for assessment. Telehealth services are available for everyone. If you have symptoms and other people are present in the same room as you, you should wear a mask. If you can’t wear a mask, then any people who live with you should wear a mask if they enter your room.

The advice is different if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 – there’s a difference between self-isolation and quarantine. If you have COVID-19 you must have a separate bedroom and wear a mask inside the house when other people are present. Only household members who are involved in caring for you should stay in the home, if possible. Shared surfaces must be cleaned daily with household disinfectant or diluted bleach.

Are there any treatments?

Because this infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective against it. There are currently no specific treatments for this novel coronavirus. If you test positive to the virus, you will either be required to remain at home or in isolation in hospital, depending on how sick you are. Public Health Officers will advise you when it is safe for you to resume your normal activities.

The symptoms will usually go away with supportive care.

What is the fatality rate of COVID-19?

Fatality rates reported for COVID-19 are usually ‘case fatality rates’. This is the proportion of people who have tested positive for the virus who have died. As testing becomes more widespread and a larger number of milder cases are detected, the reported fatality rate goes down.

If you only test people in hospital with severe infection then the case fatality rate will be higher than if you test more widely in the community and detect milder and asymptomatic infection. Countries with more widespread testing show lower fatality rates for this reason.

The World Health Organization reported the fatality rate for COVID-19 as 3.4% globally (4 March 2020). However, it is common as outbreaks progress for the estimated fatality rate to be revised. Notwithstanding this, experts report that the fatality rate for COVID-19  is higher than that of seasonal flu, which has a fatality rate of approximately 1%.  Analysis of deaths in China has shown the COVID-19 fatality rate differs across different age groups, rising to 14% in those over 80 years.

Where can I get more information on coronavirus?

More information is available at:

  • Australian Government Department of Health website
  • National Coronavirus Information Line on 1800 020 080, which is providing public health information.
  • The Federal Government’s Coronavirus Australia app, which is available on the App Store, Google Play and the Government’s WhatsApp channel.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

There is no vaccine against COVID-19 at this time, but scientists are racing to develop one. More than 165 vaccines are in development worldwide. Human testing for one potential vaccine  started in the USA in March. Pre-clinical evaluation of 2 potential COVID-19 vaccines by CSIRO started in April. A vaccine designed by the University of Oxford in the UK has induced a strong antibody response in those vaccinated and had an acceptable safety profile. Now, researchers have to show that the vaccine is effective and protects people from being infected by SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

What if I am scheduled to travel overseas?

The Australian Government’s travel advice as at 18 March is, do not travel overseas at this time. This is the highest level of advice (level 4 of 4).

The Australian Government provides advice and information on travelling safely overseas on the Smartraveller  website. Travel restrictions by Australia and other countries are under constant review and changing quickly. Make sure you keep up to date with restrictions if you are travelling, including for countries you transit through.

Where did the novel coronavirus come from?

Coronaviruses are what are known as zoonotic – meaning they can be transmitted from animals to people. Many scientists believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in bats and then passed through an intermediary animal host before infecting humans. The current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, which has turned into a pandemic, first came to attention as a cluster associated with a live seafood and animal food market in Wuhan, China.

After the outbreak started, many infected people had not had any contact with the food markets, demonstrating that the infection could be transmitted person-to-person. How easily this human-to-human transmission occurs will be answered with more certainty as the pandemic progresses.

Experts refer to this infection rate in terms of the R0 value (R nought), which represents the average number of new cases caused by one infected person. So far, the World Health Organization has given an R0 of 1.4-2.5 for the novel coronavirus.

how a virus spreads

Image: The Conversation. CC BY-ND

Previous updates

Coronavirus update: 22 June 2020

  • Australia: 461 active cases; 7459 confirmed cases; 102 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 8.89 million confirmed cases; 466,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 9 June 2020

  • Australia: 455 active cases; 7263 confirmed cases; 102 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 6.8 million confirmed cases; 397,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 3 June 2020

  • Australia: 492 active cases; 7219 confirmed cases; 102 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 6.19 million confirmed cases; 376,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 1 June 2020

  • Australia: 476 active cases; 7193 confirmed cases; 103 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 6.15 million confirmed cases; 372,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 28 May 2020

  • USA passes 100,000 deaths; 1.73 million confirmed cases.
  • Australia: 481 active cases; 7137 confirmed cases; 103 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 5.69 million confirmed cases; 355,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 27 May 2020

  • Australia: 476 active cases; 7131 confirmed cases; 102 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 5.58 million confirmed cases; 350,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 25 May 2020

  • Australia: 501 active cases; 7109 confirmed cases; 102 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 5.38 million confirmed cases; 344,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 21 May 2020

  • Australia: 533 active cases; 7077 confirmed cases; 100 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 4.97 million confirmed cases; 327,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 18 May 2020

  • Australia: 590 active cases; 7056 confirmed cases; 99 deaths
  • Worldwide: 4.71 million confirmed cases; 315,000 deaths

Coronavirus update: 14 May 2020

  • Australia: 615 active cases; 6984 confirmed cases; 98 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 4.3 million confirmed cases; 297,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 11 May 2020

  • Australia: 795 active cases; 6927 confirmed cases; 97 deaths.
  • Worldwide: 4.1 million confirmed cases; 282,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 7 May 2020

Coronavirus update: 6 May 2020

  • Australia: active cases 864; total confirmed cases 6849; deaths 96.
  • Worldwide: confirmed cases 3.66 million; deaths 257,000.

Coronavirus update: 4 May 2020

  • Australia: active cases 984; total confirmed cases 6801; deaths 95.
  • Worldwide: confirmed cases 3.5 million; deaths 247,000.

Coronavirus update:30 April 2020

  • Australia: active cases 971; total confirmed cases 6476; deaths 90.
  • Worldwide: confirmed cases 3.17 million, with 227,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 29 April 2020

  • Australia: active cases 1101; total confirmed cases 6731; deaths 88.
  • Worldwide: confirmed cases 3.08 million, with 216,000 deaths
  • US: more than 1 million cases

Coronavirus update: 27 April 2020

  • Australia: active cases 1072; total confirmed cases 6713; deaths 83.
  • Australia is planning for sentinel testing – testing a sample of the asymptomatic population to ascertain how common undetected cases are in the community.
  • Worldwide: confirmed cases 2.97 million, with 206,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 25 April 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 6676, with 79 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: more than 2.79 million, with 196,000 deaths
  • Anyone with symptoms can now be tested and is urged to do so
  • Elective surgery restrictions to be eased from 27 April
  • Restrictions on Dentists to be eased from 27 April, allowing examinations, fillings and hand scaling.

Coronavirus update: 22 April 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 6647, with 74 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: more than 2.5 million, with over 176,000 deaths

Coronavirus update: 20 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 6606, with 70 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 2,402,076 with 165,106 deaths

Coronavirus update: 16 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 6447, with 64 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases pass 2 million, with 133,000 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 14 April 2020

  • Telehealth consults are now available with dentists for dental emergencies such as toothache, a broken tooth, etc.

Coronavirus update: 13 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 6351, with 61 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 1,850,527, with 114,251 deaths

Coronavirus update: 9 April 2020

Coronavirus update: 7 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 5895 with 48 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 1.3 million, with 74,000 deaths

Coronavirus update: 6 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 5750 with 37 deaths
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 1,203,000 with 64,700 deaths

Coronavirus update: 3 April 2020

Coronavirus update: 2 April 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 5108, with 23 deaths.
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 932,605, with 46,809 deaths

Coronavirus update: 31 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 30 March 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: 4035 with 17 deaths.
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 718,865, with 33,881 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 27 March 2020

  • Australia confirmed cases: more than 3000, with 13 deaths
  • Worldwide: more than 500,000 confirmed cases

Coronavirus update: 25 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 24 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 22 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 20 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 19 March 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 636 with 6 deaths.
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: more than 218,000; 8810 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 18 March 2020

Coronavirus update: 17 March 2020

  • Queensland researchers find 2 existing medicines effective at treating COVID-19 and are hoping to start clinical trials.
  • First potential vaccine for COVID-19 starts human testing in USA.
  • Australia: Confirmed cases 377; 5 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 14 March 2020

  • Confirmed cases in Australia: 200
  • Worldwide confirmed cases: 145,000 with 5410 deaths
  • World Health Organization has declared Europe the centre of the pandemic currently

Coronavirus update: 12 March 2020

      • World Health Organization declares coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic

Coronavirus update: 11 March 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 112, with 3 deaths and 22 recovered
      • Worldwide confirmed cases: 117,000 with 4200 deaths
      • Global fatality rate: 3.9%; Fatality rate outside China 2.4%

Coronavirus update: 9 March 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 80, with 3 deaths and 22 recovered
      • Worldwide confirmed cases: 105,000 with 3500 deaths

Coronavirus update: 5 March 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia are rising daily: currently 52, with 2 deaths
      • Authorities are focussed on slowing spread in the community by responding to cases as they emerge

Coronavirus update: 4 March 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 33
      • Worldwide fatality rate 3.4% (1.8% outside mainland China)
      • Iran, Italy and South Korea have rapid increase in new cases

Coronavirus update: 3 March 2020

      • 2 cases (including a Sydney doctor) are thought to be the first instances of person-to-person transmission in Australia
      • Worldwide: over 90,000 cases

Coronavirus update: 2 March 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 29 (15 have recovered; 1 has sadly died)
      • First death in Australia from COVID-19.
      • First death in USA from COVID-19.
      • There are COVID-19 cases in 64 countries outside mainland China.

Coronavirus update: 26 February 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 23 (15 have recovered)
      • Australia activates the Emergency Response Plan for novel coronavirus (‘COVID-19 Plan’)
      • Worldwide: more than 80,000 confirmed cases (fatality rate 3.4%)
      • Fatality rate outside mainland China: 1.4%

Coronavirus update: 24 February 2020

      • Australia confirmed cases: 22 (10 have recovered; 7 cases were repatriated from Japan)
      • Worldwide cases: over 78,000; fatality rate approximately 3%
      • Australian researchers are days away from starting animal testing of new vaccine for the novel coronavirus

Coronavirus update: 20 February 2020

      • Australia confirmed cases: 15
      • Worldwide cases more than 75,000. Fatality rate 2.7% (outside mainland China 0.6%)

Coronavirus update: 17 February 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 15
      • Worldwide cases more than 69,000. Fatality rate 2.4%

Coronavirus update: 13 February 2020

      • Confirmed cases in Australia: 15
      • Worldwide cases 60,286; total deaths 1367.
      • Hubei Province adopted a new methodology for counting infections.
      • Largest rise in daily death toll since December.

Coronavirus update: 12 February 2020

      • World Health Organization names the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19.

Coronavirus update: 9 February 2020

      • 15 confirmed cases in Australia
      • More than 37,000 confirmed cases worldwide with 813 reported deaths; fatality rate of 2.16%

Coronavirus update: 6 February 2020

      • 14 confirmed cases Australia; 165 people being tested.
      • Over 24,000 confirmed cases worldwide; 492 deaths reported.

Coronavirus update: 4 February 2020

      • 12 confirmed cases in Australia. Over 17,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with 362 deaths.

Coronavirus update: 3 February 2020

      • Australians are being evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak
      • 14,561 cases confirmed worldwide, with 305 deaths, which is a 2.09% fatality rate.

Coronavirus update: 2 February 2020

      • 12 confirmed cases in Australia; nearly 12,000 confirmed cases worldwide
      • First death attributable to coronavirus outside of China reported in Philippines (44-year-old man from Wuhan)

Coronavirus update: 1 February 2020

      • Number of confirmed cases in Australia: 10
      • 14-day self-isolation advice broadened to include inbound travellers from any part of mainland China

Coronavirus update: 31 January 2020

      • 9 confirmed cases in Australia; more than 200 people tested
      • Fatality rate is 2.17% internationally
      • World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Coronavirus update: 30 January 2020

      • 7 confirmed cases in Australia; more people are under investigation
      • Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised that people returning from the Hubei province in China should self-isolate themselves in their home for 14 days, even if they don’t have symptoms
      • Anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus must be isolated in their home for 14 days following exposure.

Coronavirus update: 29 January 2020

    • Number of confirmed cases in Australia: 5
    • Number of confirmed cases worldwide: 2800, with 80 deaths.
    • Novel coronavirus 2019 has been grown by Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, paving the way for vaccine development and testing.