What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus is a group of viruses which normally cause mild illness, with symptoms similar to a common cold. A new strain, COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Hubei Province, China.

It is very different from, and more serious than, the usual seasonal influenza outbreaks that happen every year.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a fever, fatigue, dry cough, difficulty breathing and will be accompanied by a fever. Symptoms take an average of 5 days to begin – this differs to flu viruses which tend to incubate very quickly. The virus is transmitted by breathing in droplets that go into the air during coughing and sneezing. The virus needs to be in living beings to survive however, it will survive on surfaces and appropriate cleaning and disinfectant should be applied.

Over 80% of people infected with COVID-19 will experience mild symptoms similar to the common cold and may not be aware that they have the virus – this is one of the reasons it spreads easily. A smaller group [15%] will experience more severe symptoms with a minority [5%] suffering from pneumonia.

Who is at risk?

The illness is more severe in older people [over 65 years] or people who suffer from chronic diseases such as heart and lung conditions. About 5% of infected people will have a “flu” like illness. It appears that children get very mild symptoms.

As this is a new virus the health information is continually being updated.

How does it spread?

The main way the virus spreads is by contamination when someone carrying the virus coughs or sneezes. The air droplets are breathed in by another person or can be transferred to another person.

How to minimise the spread?

The virus enters your body via your eyes, nose and/or mouth, so it is important to avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or cleaning hands with alcohol-based solutions.

It is also recommended to stay at least 1 metre or more away from people who may be showing symptoms, to reduce the risk of infection through respiratory droplets.

Where can I access the latest health advice?

For the latest health advice and information:

  • Call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450;
  • The phone number of each state or territory public health agency is available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts; and
  • If you have concerns about your health, speak to a doctor.