COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) – health advice for the general public

The latest health advice for the general public on COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

The information on the page was last reviewed 4 April 2020.

On this page:

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a type of coronavirus. There are simple steps you can take to protect you and your family/whānau.


The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • shortness of breath.
  • sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose 
  • temporary loss of smell 

These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

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

We don’t yet know how long symptoms take to show after a person has been infected, but current World Health Organization assessments suggest that it is 2–10 days.

If you have these symptoms and have recently been overseas, or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, please telephone Healthline (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or your doctor immediately.

  How COVID-19 is spread

Our understanding of how COVID-19 is spread continues to improve based on information reported about the outbreak locally and from around the world.

COVID-19, like the flu, can be spread from person to person. That’s why it’s really important to use good hygiene, regularly wash and thoroughly dry your hands, and use good cough etiquette. See more information about how to protect yourself and others.

Spread of COVID-19 is highest from people with symptoms

COVID-19 is mostly spread because of contact with people with the virus who have symptoms. This could be when a person with COVID-19 sneezes or talks, spreading droplets containing the virus a short distance, which settle on surrounding surfaces.  You may get infected by the virus if you touch those surfaces or objects and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes.

The virus is most likely to be spread within the first three days of symptoms appearing. This seems to be when there is the most shedding of the virus in the nose and throat. However, it is important to keep up good hygiene practices after this time as spread may still occur.

Spread of COVID-19 before symptoms appear is less common

It is less common for COVID-19 to be spread before symptoms appear, but this can still happen. ‘Pre-symptomatic transmission’ is when the virus is spread in the time between a person being infected with it and showing symptoms. During this time, some people can spread COVID-19 via droplets or contaminated surfaces. Good hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, even when people don’t have symptoms.

No cases of COVID-19 spread from people without symptoms

Some people infected with COVID-19 may never have any symptoms. To date, there have been no confirmed instances of a person with COVID-19, but who never developed symptoms, spreading the virus. It still may be possible for this type of spread to occur and good hygiene is key to preventing this.

Prevention – how to protect yourself and others

  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
  • Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
  • Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell.
  • Call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if you have any symptoms and have been recently been overseas or have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19.

What to do if you may have been exposed

People who have recently been overseas, or who may have been exposed to COVID-19, are required to self-isolate to keep their communities safe. 

  • If you arrived in New Zealand in the last 14 days, you should self-isolate for 14 days from the date you departed the last country you visited.
  • If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 you should self-isolate for 14 days from the date of close contact.

We know from other outbreaks that self-isolation is effective, and most people are good at keeping themselves – and others – safe and well. To find out more, see our Self-isolation resource.

More information for contacts of cases in New Zealand is available at Contact tracing for COVID-19.

Who is at most risk of severe illness from COVID-19?

These guidelines are not a hard and fast rule and will be updated as and when further evidence becomes available.
The key determinant of COVID-19 becoming a severe illness is the existence of underlying medical conditions, especially if these conditions are not well controlled. Relevant conditions include:

  • serious respiratory disease such as chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma;
  • serious heart conditions;
  • immunocompromised conditions
    • many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking related illness, bone marrow or organ transplantation, haematologic neoplasms, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications (such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs);
  • severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher);
  • diabetes;
  • chronic kidney disease, people undergoing dialysis; and
  • liver disease.

Those over 70: Older people, in particular those who have underlying health issues, including respiratory issues that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Residents of aged care facilities: Aged care facilities are susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses like this. Residents are more susceptible to illnesses due to their age and they are also more likely to have underlying health conditions.

Pregnant women: Health experts do not yet know if pregnant women are impacted by COVID-19 in the same way as other people. However, pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk from some infections. 

Dedicated Healthline 0800 number for COVID-19 health advice and information

The number is 0800 358 5453 (or for international SIMs +64 9 358 5453). 

It is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

People calling that line will be able to talk with a member of the National Telehealth Service. They have access to interpreters.

You should call that dedicated number:

  • to register if you have self-isolated yourself
  • for any coronavirus health advice and information and any questions you have about coronavirus, self-isolation etc.

Healthline’s main number is still the one to call for non-coronavirus health concerns – 0800 611 116.

Whichever number you call, you will get professional health advice and information.


Currently, there is no specific treatment for coronavirus, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms.


As this is a new virus, there is currently no vaccine available. Researchers are in the early stages of developing one.

Travelling overseas

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing the latest advice for travellers on the Safe Travel website.

More information

For more information see:

Our social media:

World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 website.

Safe Travel website.

New Zealand Government COVID-19 page.

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