COVID-19 frequently asked questions

General questions about COVID-19

Stopping the spread

Vulnerable people

Animals and pets

Medicare and medicines

Myth busters

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General Questions

What is coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV 2), also known as the coronavirus, is the virus that causes COVID-19.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory infections. This can range from the common cold to more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

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What are the symptoms?

As with other respiratory illnesses, some people infected with coronavirus disease may experience mild symptoms and will recover easily, and others may become very ill and need urgent medical care.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • fever (a temperature of 37.5˚C or higher) or chills
  • cough
  • loss of taste or smell
  • sore throat
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • runny or blocked nose
  • shortness of breath (difficulty breathing)
  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • headache
  • muscle or joint pain
  • loss of appetite

For some people, it can be more severe and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties and can even be fatal. Call 000 if you need urgent medical help.

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What do I do if I am feeling unwell?

If you are severely unwell, such as having difficulty breathing, call 000 (Triple Zero).

Use the healthdirect Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

You should get tested as soon as symptoms appear. Visit the Testing for COVID-19 page for information on:

  • Who can get tested
  • How and where to get tested
  • What to do after your test
  • What to do if you have a positive or negative test result
  • What to do if you are feeling worried but well.

Visit the COVID-19 Clinics and Testing Centres page to find your closest dedicated COVID-19 clinic across metropolitan and regional South Australia.

If you are worried, keep a distance of 1.5 metres away from others when out and about in public spaces.

This also means not shaking hands, hugging, kissing and touching people unnecessarily or sharing food and drinks.

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Is COVID-19 similar to the flu?

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.

COVID -19 and flu share some very similar symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and runny nose.

Some key differences:

  • COVID-19 has a higher person-to-person transmission rate, meaning it spreads more easily than the flu.
  • COVID-19 is a new virus, so we currently don’t have any herd immunity to it in Australia so the population is more susceptible to infection.

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Is serology (blood) testing used in SA?

Oral and nasal swab testing (PCR testing) gives accurate results and allows health officials to quickly manage any future outbreaks.

Serology or a blood test is used to detect antibodies or signs of an old infection in your blood stream.

However, these antibodies are not detectable during the early stages of infection, and it may take weeks before they can be detected, so it’s not useful at all for diagnosing active or infectious cases. Also, not all people who had an infection develop these antibodies. It is not currently known what ability the antibodies have to protect us from repeat infection and the level of immunity for individuals.

For these reasons, serology testing is not currently recommended in South Australia and should not be undertaken prior or post vaccination.

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How accurate is the oral and nasal PCR test?

Oral and nasal swab testing (PCR testing) is a highly sensitive, gold-standard method for detecting COVID-19. Testing using this method when someone is infectious is exceptionally accurate.

The collected swab can sometimes detect an old infection or a non-infectious case of COVID-19, after someone has had the infection. This means that the swab is detecting ‘dead virus’. This may happen for several weeks after an acute infection. The PCR swab test should ideally be performed by a trained health professional and not self-collected. The swab is very accurate and allows health officials to quickly manage any future outbreaks.

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Is there a COVID-19 vaccine available?

Yes. The Australian Government is coordinating a staged rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, commencing in February 2021 with priority groups.

The vaccine is free for everyone living in Australia and receiving the vaccine is voluntary, however it is strongly encouraged.

For more information, visit the COVID-19 vaccinations page.

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Stopping the spread

How does it spread?

COVID-19 is mostly likely spread through:

  • direct close contact with a person while they are infectious (usually face to face contact for at least 15 minutes; or being in the same closed space for at least 2 hours
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
  • COVID-19 may also spread through:
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables, mobile phones, stair rails, elevator buttons) that have droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person, and then touching your mouth, nose, eyes or face.

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What is social / physical distancing?

Social / physical distancing means avoiding close contact and crowded places whenever you can and aiming to keep approximately 1.5 metres distance from those around you in the community.

What is a close contact?

A close contact is generally defined as someone who has been face to face for at least 15 minutes, or been in the same closed space for at least 2 hours, as someone who has tested positive for the COVID-19 when that person was infectious.

Close contacts are advised by public health officials of the need to self-isolate.

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What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is the process of interviewing people with COVID-19 to determine who they have been in contact with during their incubation period and their infectious period. Watch the video below to learn more.


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Can COVID-19 survive for long on surfaces?

Studies suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 may survive on surfaces for a few hours or in rarer cases up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment).

It can be spread by touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

To avoid spreading the virus on objects and surfaces:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water or use alcohol based hand sanitiser
  • use a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant or detergent.

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Do I need to use antibacterial soap or hand sanitiser to clean my hands?

Washing your hands regularly is one of your best defences. You don’t have to use antibacterial soap - regular soap will protect you if you wash your hands properly. Washing with soap removes the fat that sits around the virus particles and will destroy it.

Alcohol-based sanitiser is also a good alternative when hand washing is not possible.

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Vulnerable people

Who is most at risk?

People of all ages can be infected by COVID-19.

However, older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or people with a weakened immune system are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.

Make sure any chronic conditions are managed or under control so you are as healthy as possible. Talk to your GP about how you can do this.

You can also take steps to protect yourself from COVID-19. For example, by practicing physical distancing, staying away from people who have respiratory infections, practicing good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes and wiping down surfaces – remember wash, wipe, cover – don’t infect another.

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Are pregnant people at greater risk?

Pregnant people and their unborn baby have a significantly higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 than non-pregnant people:

  • 5 times higher risk of requiring a hospital admission.
  • 2-3 times higher risk of needing treatment in a hospital intensive care unit.
  • 1.5 times higher chance of being born preterm or admission to a special care nursery.

Vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of becoming seriously unwell with COVID-19.
If you are pregnant, you should discuss your COVID-19 vaccination with your health professional.

For more information on vaccination visit the COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy, planning a family and breastfeeding webpage.

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If I have other medical conditions, will COVID-19 make me sicker than other people?

If you have chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes you may be at higher risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19.

The best thing you can do is to visit your GP and make sure you are managing your health conditions. The healthier you are, the better you can fight off new viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

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Are smokers at the same risk of COVID-19 of everyone else?

Viral respiratory infections are often more serious in smokers because of the thick mucus that collects in a smoker’s lungs, clogging them and making them susceptible to infection. Smoking also affects the immune system so it’s harder for the body to fight the infection. The best way to reduce your risk of any smoking-related illness is to quit smoking. For more information and support to quit smoking your own way, visit Be Smoke Free.

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Self-isolation and self-quarantine

Who needs to self-isolate?

People who have a confirmed case of COVID-19, and certain people who are at higher-risk of COVID-19, such as returned travellers and contacts of known COVID-19 cases, will need to self-isolate or self-quarantine. For more information, visit the self-isolation information and advice page.

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Do I need to self-isolate if someone in my house is self-isolating?

If you are living with someone who is self-isolating, you should avoid contact with this person and you should both follow the self-isolation advice on the SA Health website. You should also monitor yourself and other people in the household for symptoms and contact your GP if you become unwell.

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Animals and pets

Can I catch COVID-19 from my pet and other animals?

Currently, there is no evidence in Australia that pets can spread the virus to humans, however, animal fur can be the same as other objects in that there may be a low risk of transmission from an animal’s coat if it has been touched by someone carrying the virus.

It is always a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water after contact with pets.

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Can I take my dog or pet for a walk if I'm self-isolating?

If you are in self-isolation or quarantine, you are unable to leave your quarantine / isolation location to go for walks – even with friends and family. We encourage you to find other ways to exercise your dog/pet.

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Can I get COVID-19 from Australian bats?

There is no evidence, at this stage, that bats (or any other animals) carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Australia.

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Medicare and medicines

What if I’m not eligible for Medicare?

Overseas residents who fall ill in Australia (and are not eligible for Medicare) often have health or travel insurance.

For those who do not have adequate insurance coverage, South Australian hospitals will waive the costs of diagnosis (COVID-19 tests) and treatment of coronavirus (COVID-19). This includes waiving payment and debt recovery procedures for ambulance transfers of people suspected to have COVID-19, who are taken to South Australian hospitals for assessment.

These arrangements have been put in place to ensure payment issues are not a barrier for people from overseas with symptoms seeking early medical advice.

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How can I get my medication if I can’t get a prescription?

If you have not been able to access medical services or get to the doctor to receive your usual prescription and have an immediate need, you should contact your pharmacist (or a local pharmacy) about getting your essential medicines from the pharmacy without a prescription.

Your pharmacist will be able to provide most medicines available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) or the smallest standard pack of drugs not on the PBS.

Find out more in the Consumer factsheet on Emergency supply of essential medicines and the Coronavirus (PDF 161KB).

The Emergency Supply provision does not apply to certain medicines and a prescription is required for these including:

  • Schedule 8 drugs (S8) including opioids, some benzodiazepines and stimulants
  • Drugs that are restricted to prescribing by relevant specialist medical practitioners only including:
    • drugs listed in Regulation 19 of the Poisons Regulations and
    • drugs listed in Appendix D of the Poisons Standard.
    • The above categories include medicines such as certain fertility and cancer drugs and hydroxychloroquine.

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How can I get my medicines if I’m in quarantine, self-isolating or staying at home?

Contact your doctor and/or pharmacy to discuss the options available, and to set up a plan that works best for you. You can use searches such as Google to locate your closest doctor or pharmacy if you are away from home.

Options to have your prescriptions sent to the pharmacy:

  • Talk to your doctor about sending any new prescriptions directly to your pharmacy.
  • Your pharmacy may already have your repeat prescriptions on file.
  • Ask someone to assist – for example a family member, friend or neighbour can take your prescriptions to the pharmacy for you.
  • Post your prescriptions to the pharmacy or drop them off via a secure and contactless method (i.e. secure letterbox).

Collecting your medicines:

  • Home delivery – talk to the pharmacy about delivery to your home or where you are staying; delivery may be made by a pharmacy staff member, Australia Post mail, couriers, or taxi services.
  • Ask someone to assist – a family member, friend or neighbour may collect your medicines from the pharmacy.

If you would like more information about how to get your medicines from a pharmacy, please visit the Frequently asked questions about pharmacies and accessing medicines (PDF 138KB).

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Is it safe to go to a hospital where a COVID-19 case has been?

Yes. Hospitals maintain high infection control standards. South Australian hospitals and clinicians are well trained in caring for people with infectious diseases, and in preventing their transmission to other patients.

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Is it safe to receive parcels or letters in the mail?

Yes, it is safe to receive packages and regular mail. From experience with other coronaviruses, we know that these types of viruses don’t survive long on letters or parcels. However, you should all be careful and make sure you are washing our hands frequently.

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Can I catch COVID-19 from mosquitos?

There is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 is transmitted through mosquito bites.

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Can I catch COVID-19 from money, cash and bank cards?

It is very unlikely you can get COVID-19 from money, cash or bank cards. However, make sure you follow proper hand hygiene and wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitisers after handling money. Try using “tap and go” or “phone pay” options where possible.

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Can I get COVID-19 from having sex?

No. COVID-19 is not a sexually transmissible disease. However, you can get COVID-19 from being in close contact with someone who is infectious with COVID-19.

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Will antibiotics protect me from COVID-19?

No, antibiotics do not work against viruses. COVID-19 disease is caused by a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment.

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Will using herbs or oils, eating garlic, gargling mouthwash, yoga or rinsing my nose with saline prevent me from getting COVID-19?

While some people use these things for their general health, they will not protect you against COVID-19.

Vaccination is the best way to reduce your risk of becoming seriously unwell with COVID-19.
For more information, visit the COVID-19 vaccinations page.

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Will the flu vaccine protect me from COVID-19?

The flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is available for everyone 16 years and over in South Australia. For more information, visit the COVID-19 vaccinations page.

The flu vaccine will reduce the likelihood of you becoming seriously ill from the flu, so you should get your annual flu shot – usually around April each year.

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Can I get a point of care serological (blood) test to see if I have COVID-19?

No. Point of care serological (blood) tests are prohibited under the Direction – Restrictions on blood tests. These blood tests will not show you if you have COVID-19. You must have a swab taken by a medical professional to determine if you have COVID-19. If you are feeling unwell and think you need to be tested for COVID-19, please see the information about What to do if you’re feeling unwell.

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Is our drinking water and wastewater safe?

Drinking water supplied by SA Water is safe to use for normal household purposes including drinking.

  • Continue to safely manage your private drinking water supply if you have them (rainwater tanks, bore water).
  • Wastewater and recycled water should be managed per current requirements.
  • Continue to maintain and operate on-site wastewater systems.
  • Practise good hygiene when using public drinking water fountains and bubblers.

For detailed information see the Hygiene, water and sanitation fact sheet (PDF 125KB).

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Does 5G and other telecommunications affect the immune system?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, some members of the public are concerned about whether the immune system can be compromised by wireless telecommunications sources such as 5G.

According to Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), studies have investigated whether low level radio wave exposure from telecommunications sources like 5G can impact the immune system. Such studies, including those that have investigated effects on antigens, antibodies and oxidative stress, have not provided evidence of changes in immune function.

There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short term health effects.

The operating frequencies of the 5G network are included within the limits set by the ARPANSA safety standard.