About COVID-19

Information on COVID-19 including symptoms, spread and where to get help.

Last updated: 11 June 2021

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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus that can affect your lungs and airways.

Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses which cause illnesses such as the common cold. The most recent diseases caused by it include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)

On 7 January 2020, China confirmed COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2). It had not previously been detected in humans or animals.

Read more questions and answers on COVID-19 including where it came from and how long it can remain on surfaces.


COVID-19 symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to common illnesses such as a cold or influenza. You may have one or more of the following:

  • a new or worsening cough
  • fever (at least 38˚C)
  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • temporary loss of smell.

Shortness of breath is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

Some people may present with less typical symptoms such as only: fever, diarrhoea, headache, myalgia (muscle pain), nausea/vomiting, or confusion/irritability.

Symptoms can take up to 14 days to show after a person has been infected. The virus can be passed onto others before they know they have it – from up to two days before symptoms develop.

If you have these symptoms call Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or your doctor immediately.

Read more about COVID-19 assessment and testing


How COVID-19 spreads

Like the flu, COVID-19 is usually spread from person to person. Our understanding of how it spreads is based on evidence from New Zealand and internationally, and we monitor new information closely.

Scientific evidence suggests that COVID-19 is primarily spread by droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets containing the virus spread a short distance from one person to another. Droplet spread requires both people to be close together (within 2 meters) and in the same place at the same time (typically for more than a few minutes).

How to protect yourself

From a public heath perspective, we need to protect ourselves against the most common form(s) of transmission. That’s why it’s important to:

  • use good hand hygiene
  • regularly wash and dry your hands
  • cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or into your elbow
  • practise physical distancing if you don’t know someone
  • stay home if you’re unwell.

Read more information about how to protect yourself and others.

Transmission from surfaces

Transmission via a surface/object that an infected person has recently touched, or deposited droplets upon, is a possible mode of transmission. The amount of time that the virus remains viable will be dependent on a number of factors including ambient temperature, humidity and UV light.

Airborne (aerosol) transmission

It is also possible that people can get infected if very small droplets remain suspended in the air for an extended period of time. The risk of such airborne transmission becomes higher:

  • in enclosed spaces that are poorly ventilated
  • in crowded settings
  • during loud conversations.

Wearing a mask or face covering can reduce the risk of people who have COVID-19 spreading the virus to others.

Time of spread

Spread is most likely to happen once symptoms appear.

It is less common for the virus to spread before symptoms appear, but this can still happen. This is known as pre-symptomatic transmission. Good hand hygiene, and physical distancing from those you don’t know minimises risk.


People at higher risk

People with underlying health conditions are most at risk of COVID-19 becoming a severe illness. You are more vulnerable if you are over 70 years old with a health condition, living in an aged care facility where spread can occur more easily, have a medical condition and/or compromised immunity. 

Pregnant women in their third trimester when demands on the mother for oxygen are higher, should also be cautious and follow good hygiene practices. If you’re working where there is high risk of exposure to COVID-19 you should talk with your employer to assess risk and options for working differently if needed.

Other risk factors include ethnicity, smoking and obesity.

Guidance for people who are more at risk of severe illness from COVID-19


Treatment and immunity

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Most people will be able to get better at home in isolation to avoid others getting it. More severe cases may need medical care in hospital.

Once a person is infected with COVID-19, their body will usually produce cells (antibodies) that ‘remember’ the virus. We assume these antibodies give the person immunity from the virus but it is not currently clear how long immunity lasts. 

As of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to COVID-19 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans.

Read more information on what we know about infection and immunity.


Where to get help

If you think you have COVID-19 call Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or talk to your doctor.

Read more about COVID-19 assessment and testing

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