Assessing symptoms

Getting diagnosed and monitored

Think about what your body feels like on an average day. If you know what your “normal” feels like you can recognise if something is different. Some symptoms can be similar to those that come with chronic conditions. For example, persistent fatigue, excessive sweating and muscle aches and pains.

You should get tested as soon as possible if you notice any unusual symptoms, even if they are mild. Early diagnosis means you can avoid spreading the virus to someone else.

The current Australian Government guidelines for isolation and testing state that, if you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 you must isolate for 7 days (10 days in South Australia) from the last time you were in contact with that person.

The two types of tests currently available are: 

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests
  • Rapid antigen tests (RATs)

The information about how and where to access tests is changing rapidly. Therefore, it is a good idea to check the Australian Government and state and territory health departments for the latest testing information in your area.

PCR tests are always free. Rapid antigen tests may be free depending on how you access them.

If you cannot access a COVID-19 test and you have symptoms or you know you are a close contact of a person who is COVID-19 positive, then you should act as though you are COVID-19 positive and follow all the current advice about accessing appropriate care. You should still attempt to have a COVID-19 test as soon as practical.

Rapid antigen tests can be purchased at participating pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail outlets. Supplies are currently extremely limited but tests should be widely available across Australia over the coming weeks.

You can access up to 10 free rapid antigen tests from pharmacies over a 3 month period (maximum 5 in a month) if you have one of the following government-issued concession cards: 

  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card
  • Department of Veteran’s Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card
  • Health Care Card
  • Low Income Health Card
  • Pensioner Concession Card

The healthdirect website has a handy COVID-19 Symptom Checker you can use to help determine if you may have COVID-19 and (depending on your responses) what your next steps should be.

The website lists the common mild symptoms of COVID-19 as being:

  • No symptoms at all
  • Mild upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as a congested or runny nose, sneezing, or a scratchy or sore throat
  • Cough
  • New aches and pains, or lethargy or weakness without shortness of breath
  • Mild headache
  • Mild fever that responds to treatment
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Occasional vomiting or diarrhoea

The following symptoms are considered moderate:

  • Breathlessness at rest (for example, sitting)
  • Fever (temperature greater than 38°C) or feeling hot, and not responding to treatment
  • Coughing up mucous regularly
  • Signs of dehydration (dizziness when standing up, passing less urine [“wee”] than usual)
  • Significant fatigue or lethargy stopping you from doing normal tasks
  • Severe headache that’s not responding to pain medication

The following symptoms are considered severe:

  • So breathless you’re unable to speak in sentences
  • Unconscious, fainting or drowsy
  • Skin turning blue or pale
  • Cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
  • Pain or pressure in the chest lasting more than 10 minutes
  • Confusion
  • Passing no urine (‘wee’) or a lot less urine than usual
  • Coughing up blood

If your rapid antigen or PCR test returns a positive result you must isolate at home.

How you access medical care depends on the type of test you had, the severity of your symptoms and where you live.

Care pathways following a positive COVID-19 rapid antigen test result

If you took a rapid antigen test that is positive, you must register as a COVID-19 positive case with the government health department in your state or territory. The fastest way to do this is online via the relevant state website. In some states, it is now mandatory to register positive rapid antigen test results and failure to do so will attract a fine.

When you register your results, you will also be asked questions about your current symptoms. You will then be directed to appropriate levels of care based on whether you have mild, moderate or severe symptoms and if you have other risk factors, such as chronic health conditions.

If you have a regular GP or are under the care of a specialist, they may already have a treatment plan in mind for you. They may have reached to you already. If not, contact them as soon as you receive your positive result.

In general:

  • If you have mild or manageable symptoms, you will be asked to self-mange your symptoms at home. You may receive regular messages from a healthcare service to check on you. If your symptoms get worse, you should contact your GP, local pharmacist or call Nurse on Call on 1300 60 60 24 for advice.
  • If your symptoms are moderate or if you are assessed as having a medium risk of developing severe symptoms and you can safely self-manage your symptoms at home, you will need to contact your GP. They will then take responsibility for the coordination of your care.
    You should monitor and record your symptoms daily as this will help you track their progress. You may be asked to submit these details to your GP using a smartphone app, web link or during a telehealth consultation.
  • If your symptoms are severe and/or you are assessed as having a high risk of developing severe symptoms, you will need to be admitted and cared for in hospital and will be assisted accordingly. 

If you are managing your symptoms at home but your symptoms worsen, you should contact your GP or local hospital. Some public hospitals now run a virtual emergency clinic so you could try this before going there in person.

If your symptoms become life-threatening, you should call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

Care pathways following a positive COVID-19 PCR test result

If you took a PCR test your local health department will contact you and they will register you as a positive case. Normally, they would immediately direct you to the appropriate level of medical care immediately. However, current delays in the testing system have meant that you may not hear from authorities until several days after your test. By that stage, you may already be symptomatic.

If you are in that situation and have not been contacted by health authorities, you should assume you are positive and call your GP and ask them to help you manage your care. They can help direct you to the appropriate care pathways as per the above information.

You should also contact all your current and relevant specialists and allied health providers to advise them of your situation. They can also help you make decisions about stopping or continuing any of your current physical and/or medical therapies while you are sick with COVID-19. See the Managing chronic conditions section for more information on this topic.

Your conversations with all the members of your healthcare team should take place via phone or video calls rather than in person. This will limit the risk of you transmitting the virus to others.

Resources to help you manage COVID-19 at home:

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has produced the free, downloadable resource Managing COVID-19 at home with assistance from your general practice. It includes step-by-step instructions on all aspects of planning for and managing COVID-19 at home. It also includes a printable medical action plan and a daily symptom diary.

The following websites are full of practical advice:

Treatments for mild symptoms

If your symptoms are mild or moderate, you can treat them as you would a heavy cold or seasonal flu. Rest is the most important thing you can do to help your body recover. You may want to sleep a lot anyway. Otherwise, stick to gentle activities such as watching TV, listening to music or doing some very basic stretches to ease stiffness.

You can use paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain and fever. You may also choose to use cough medicine, nasal decongestant or anti-nausea medication if required. Electrolyte replacements such as Hydralyte powder or ice blocks can help treat dehydration.

Over-the-counter products that may help you include products to soothe chapped lips, throat lozenges and menthol-based chest rubs. Other simple home remedies you can try include blowing bubbles through a straw (to help clear your lungs) or to gargle salt water (to soothe a sore throat).

Treatments for severe symptoms

If your COVID-19 symptoms are severe, you may need to receive medicinal treatment from your GP or, for specific COVID-19 medications, in a hospital setting.

Corticosteroids, such as budesonide, are medications used to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can become a symptom of COVID-19 when the immune system overreacts to fight the infection.

Some of the other medical treatments currently used in Australia to treat people with severe COVID-19 include:

  • Tocilizumab (Actemra)
  • Casirivimab and imdevimab (Ronapreve)
  • Sotrovimab (Xevudy)
  • Remdesivir (Veklury)
  • Baracitinib (Olumiant)
  • Sarilumab (Kevzara)

There are differences in how, when and why these treatments are used. Factors that can influence the choice of treatments used include the age of the patient, whether they are fully vaccinated, any underlying conditions they may have and the supply of stock available at that time.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) frequently reviews the list of treatments currently available in Australia and may add or remove treatments based on the best available scientific evidence at the time.

The information in this section about COVID-19 medicines approved for use in Australia has been sourced from the following websites:

If you have COVID-19 you should remain in a separate room or area of the house to other household members who do not have COVID-19. This includes using a separate bathroom if available.

If it is not possible for you and other members of your household to isolate in separate areas, you should:

  • Avoid being in shared spaces
  • Wear a mask in all shared spaces (as should the other members of your household)
  • Wipe down any surfaces you touch with disinfectant

If you need to pass meals or other items to a COVID-19 positive person, wear disposable gloves. Allow a few moments after doors separating COVID-19 positive people have been closed to allow virus particles to clear.

As your symptoms improve, you may be less infectious to others. Talk to your GP and check the latest government advice in your area about how and when you can start mixing with others again.

For more information on how to isolate at home, see the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners guide Managing COVID-19 at home with assistance from your general practice.

  • Some people with COVID-19 symptoms report a decreased sense of smell which can make regular meals unappealing. They suggest choosing foods with lots of texture or strong flavours instead.Those who experience nausea may prefer smoothies made with probiotic yoghurt instead of regular meals.If you can’t go to the shops, you could order your groceries online or ask someone to shop for you and have your groceries left on the doorstep. Home delivered food from friends or local takeaway services can also be handy.To search for local emergency relief and food relief providers, go to the Department of Social Services  Grants Service Directory. For ”Service type”, select, “Financial Crisis and Material Aid ‐ Emergency Relief” or “Financial Crisis and Material Aid – Food Relief”. You can also call the healthdirect 24-hour number 1800 022 222.

If you have had any COVID-19 symptoms, your recovery time can vary from days to many weeks. This may depend on your general health, your age, the severity of your symptoms and other factors so it will be different for everyone.

In general, you will generally be considered to be recovered if you have not had any symptoms (or any new symptoms) for seven consecutive days.

Some people may continue to experience symptoms for many months. If symptoms cannot be explained by a different diagnosis this is referred to as long COVID or post COVID-19 condition. Even if you only had mild symptoms and were not admitted to hospital, you can still develop long COVID. Symptoms may appear and disappear at different times.

Long COVID has no specific treatment but your GP and other healthcare professionals can help you manage your symptoms.

There is no specific treatment for this condition. Any person who develops post COVID-19 condition should seek care.

See the following websites for more information on recovering from COVID-19 and managing long COVID

Australian Government Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic, Testing for COVID-19,


healthdirect, COVID-19 Symptom Checker,

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Managing COVID-19 at home with assistance from your general practice,

Australian Government Department of Health, Managing COVID-19 at home – Resources for patients and healthcare professionals,

healthdirect, Managing COVID-19 at home,

CreakyJoints Australia, Tocilizumab Shortage Forces Patients to Review Treatment Options — Updated 20 December 2021,

Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), COVID-19 treatments,

National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce, Caring for people with COVID-19,

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Managing COVID-19 at home with assistance from your general practice,

Australian Government Department of Social Service, DSS Grants Service Directory, service

healthdirect, Recovering from COVID-19,

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), Managing common post-COVID-19 symptoms at home,

Australian Government Department of Health, COVID-19 Vaccinations, Long term effects of COVID-19,

Did you find this COVID-19 self-care guide helpful?
Do you live with a chronic condition?
Create your action plan: Pre-planning for getting COVID-19
Managing chronic conditions when you have COVID-19

Australian Government health information

If your symptoms become life-threatening, you should call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and tell the ambulance staff that you have COVID-19.

State and territory health departments

Other resources

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