COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new form of coronavirus.
WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS?
Coronaviruses form a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses. These include the common cold as well as more serious diseases like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). COVID-19 is a newly discovered coronavirus.
Many animals also have coronavirus-related illnesses. When one of those viruses mutates and passes onto humans, the disease can be more severe because the human body has not developed immunity to it. Both the SARS and MERS diseases are examples of this happening in recent years.1
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
The following people are at increased risk of developing serious illness if they get COVID-19: Advice for groups at greater risk.2
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 50 years and older, with one or more chronic medical conditions
those 70 years or older
those with a chronic condition or compromised immune system
people with a disability
The COVID-19 Delta variant was first identified in December 2020. Within a matter of months, this particular variant spread to over 98 countries around the world. The Delta variant is now the dominant variant of COVID-19 worldwide. It is highly transmissible and causes more severe disease than previous variants. COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalisation or death from Delta.3
The Omicron variant is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in Australia. Early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to make people seriously ill than previous COVID-19 variants, however, large numbers of Omicron infections will have a negative impact on the health system in Australia. Omicron is highly contagious and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated.
Omicron began as three subvariants, BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3. The dominant subvariants are now BA.4 and BA.5. These are both more infectious and are better able to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections. This increases the chances of becoming reinfected with COVID-19 and therefore, case numbers are likely to rise.
Although current vaccines will still provide some protection against serious illness and death against BA.4 and BA.5, they are unlikely to provide much, if any, protection against infection.
COVID-19 remains an ongoing health risk with sudden outbreaks of disease occurring globally. The Australian Government encourages all travellers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before travelling anywhere overseas. Plan your travel carefully and check the risks and requirements specific to your destination. See the COVID-19 and International Travel topic for more information.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly. People with COVID-19 may experience symptoms such as5:
shortness of breath
Other symptoms can include:
acute blocked nose (congestion)
muscle or joint pains
loss of sense of smell
altered sense of taste
loss of appetite
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical advice and get tested.
A vaccine teaches your body to fight the infection by stopping you from catching COVID-19, or at least making it less deadly. There have been some changes to COVID-19 vaccines used in the original national vaccine rollout. COVID-19 vaccines currently available in Australia are:
Everyone in Australia aged 5 years and over is eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccination. You do not need a prescription from a GP to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary. Vaccination protects against serious illness, hospitalisation and death from COVID-19.
For more information, see the COVID-19 vaccination topic, or ask your Pharmacist or GP for advice.
OTHER SAFETY MEASURES
You can also reduce your chances of being infected with or spreading COVID-19 by taking some simple precautions:
Wearing a face mask protects you and your community by providing an additional physical barrier to coronavirus (COVID-19). For a face mask to be effective, it must fit well and cover your nose and mouth. This means that face shields, bandanas, or scarves or loose snoods, loose buffs or loose neck gaiters on their own will not provide effective protection from COVID-19.
Call 1800 020 080 (in Aus) if you are seeking information on COVID-19. This line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you need to get tested:
Vaccination is a safe and effective means of preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. There is no cure for COVID-19, however several medicines have been developed that help stop you from becoming very sick with COVID-19. They are of most benefit to people who are at risk of severe disease or people who are in hospital with severe disease. The following medications are not meant to be used as a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.9 There are 2 types of COVID-19 treatments available in Australia with a prescription: antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments.
Antiviral treatments e.g., Lagevrio and Paxlovid, inhibit viral replication
Monoclonal antibody treatments work by supplying the body with an infusion of antibodies to fight COVID-19.
It is best to start taking antiviral medication within 5 days after your symptoms start. You may be eligible for oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine if you:
are 18 years and older, and
have COVID-19, and
are at higher risk of becoming very sick
While Australia's mandatory COVID-19 isolation rules are no longer in place, it is advisable to stay at home if you have tested positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms. If you work in a high-risk setting, you will not be able to return to work for five days after testing positive, and the official health advice for all workers is still for people to work from home or avoid going to work if they test positive and have symptoms. High-risk settings include:
hospital care 12
Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
Ask your Pharmacist for the most up-to-date information about the COVID-19 vaccination.
See the COVID ready kit topic for a list of items you will need in preparation for a household member testing positive for COVID-19.
Ensure everyone in your family has enough medication at home. If any prescriptions are due for a refill, make sure you submit them to your Pharmacy.
If you do become unwell, ask your Pharmacist if medical supplies can be delivered to your home.
RAT kits are available from your local Pharmacy.
To help prevent spreading or contracting the virus, practise regular hand washing. Soap is available from your Pharmacy. Hand sanitiser gel may also be available and can be used if soap and water are not available.
Face masks can help prevent the spread of infection. These are available from your Pharmacy.
If you do become unwell, paracetamol or ibuprofen will help to control your fever. Make sure you have enough on hand for yourself and family members. Ask your Pharmacist for advice.
It is also important to stay well hydrated. Powders and solutions containing electrolytes are available from your Pharmacy.
1. About coronaviruses. Health Direct. Australian Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Dec 2021. Available from URL: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/about-coronaviruses
2. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Jan 2022. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/advice-for-groups-at-risk
3. COVID-19 Delta variant. Australian Govt Dept of Health. Last updated Dec 2021. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/symptoms-and-variants/delta
4. RACGP. Last updated July 2022. Available from URL: https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/what-to-expect-from-a-third-omicron-wave-in-austra
5. What you need to know about Coronavirus. Last updated 30 July 2021. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/ongoing-support-during-coronavirus-covid-19/what-you-need-to-know-about-coronavirus-covid-19
6. COVID-19 vaccines. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Cited 17 Dec 2020. Available from URL: https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/COVID-19-vaccines
7. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organisation. Last updated 4 June 2020. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
8. Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organisation. Last updated 4 June 2020. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
9. Medications for treating COVID-19. Health Direct. Aust Govt Dept of Health. Last updated April 2023. Available from URL: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/covid-19/medications
10. What you need to know about COVID-19 treatments. Medical College of Wisconsin. Last updated Feb 2023. Available from URL: https://www.froedtert.com/stories/what-you-need-know-about-covid-19-treatments
11. Esterman A. What to expect from a third Omicron wave in Australia. https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/what-to-expect-from-a-third-omicron-wave-in-austra
12. Australia’s new COVID rules: isolation recommended by not required. The Guardian. Sept 2022. Available from URL: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/30/australias-new-covid-rules-isolation-recommended-but-not-required