Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Physical distancing and how to avoid COVID-19

13-minute read

If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

How do I avoid catching COVID-19?

The Australian Government requires you to practise good hygiene. It is essential to keep your hands clean — especially outside your home — and to cover your cough or sneeze.

It is also crucial to practise physical distancing.

You need to make sure you:

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues and wash your hands immediately after
  • regularly clean and disinfect surfaces you use often, such as benchtops and door handles
  • stay at least 1.5 metres from people you don’t live with as much as possible, and avoid crowded places
  • avoid contact with people who are unwell with cold or flu-like symptoms
  • stay home if you are unwell
  • avoid touching your face
  • avoid handshaking, kissing or hugging with people you don’t live with
  • wear a mask if you are in an area with community transmission, and where physical distancing is not possible, such as on public transport

The government has also set limits on how many people can gather indoors and outdoors, and police in your state or territory will enforce these limits.

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

What is the difference between 'physical distancing' and 'social distancing'?

Physical distancing is a better term to describe how you should keep your distance from people during the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be physically distanced, but you can still be social in other ways.

It's important that people stay in touch and continue to be social with their family and friends for their own mental health and wellbeing. Phone calls, video calls and social media can help you stay connected with loved ones.

Physical distancing helps reduce the risk of a virus being transmitted and includes:

  • avoiding crowds and mass gatherings where it is hard to keep a reasonable distance from others (about 1.5 metres)
  • avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces
  • keeping 1.5 metres between you and other people
  • not shaking hands, hugging or kissing
  • not visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, babies or people with weakened immune systems

What is 'non-essential travel'?

Non-essential travel means travel within your own area that is unnecessary, visiting other towns and cities, and journeys interstate.

Advice to avoid non-essential travel is an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19.

Essential travel includes travel that is part of everyday life, such as journeys to work or to the shops for essential supplies.

Even though state and territory governments are beginning to lift restrictions on non-essential travel, you should still follow physical distancing rules and practise good hygiene, whether or not you decide to travel.

For information on the easing of travel restrictions in your state or territory, visit the healthdirect Restriction Checker at healthdirect.gov.au and click on ‘Check how the COVID-19 restrictions affect you’.

How many people can be at a gathering?

The Australian Government has recommended easing restrictions on gatherings, but it’s up to each state and territory to decide how to do this. There are limits to how many people can gather in one place.

To find out how many people you can gather with at one time in your region, use the healthdirect Restriction Checker.

You should continue to maintain 1.5 metres between yourself and others. You should also practise good hand and cough hygiene and stay at home if you’re unwell.

Penalties, such as fines and jail sentences, may apply if physical distancing rules and limits are not followed. States and territories will be responsible for enforcing this.

Am I allowed to visit a patient in hospital?

Hospitals in Australia have introduced restrictions on who can visit patients and for how long. Most hospitals are limiting visits to 1 or 2 people per day and have a time limit on how long you can stay with the person.

It’s important to check the hospital’s website, and call ahead before you go, to see if you are allowed to visit. You should also discuss with your family and friends who should be given priority to visit.

Depending on why a patient is in hospital might also affect who is able to visit them. If they are very sick, have a certain type of illness or in a high risk group, like the elderly, they may not be able to have any visitors.

If you are allowed to see a patient in hospital, you should follow any rules the hospital has on physical distancing, and hand and cough hygiene.

If you are not feeling well, you should not visit anyone in hospital.

Victoria

Hospitals in Victoria have further restrictions in place on who is allowed to visit a hospital. For current restrictions, visit dhhs.vic.gov.au, and select ‘Visiting hospitals in Victoria’. Make sure you contact the hospital before you visit as they may have additional requirements.

How does COVID-19 spread from human to human?

The virus is most likely to spread from person to person:

  • through direct contact with a person while they are infectious
  • through contact with droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, laughs or sings
  • through touching objects or surfaces, such as door handles or tables, then touching your face or mouth (where an infected person has coughed or sneezed and contaminated the surface with droplets)

To avoid contact with these droplets, it’s important to:

  • maintain physical distance by staying at least 1.5 metres away from others
  • clean your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • cover your mouth with a tissue or bent elbow when sneezing or coughing
  • clean surfaces regularly

Does wearing a mask help reduce my risk of COVID-19?

Wearing a face covering may help keep you and others safe. COVID-19 is spread from close contact with a person with the virus.

Face coverings help stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs, or sneezes — including someone who has COVID-19 and is contagious, but feels well.

However, you don't need to wear a mask if you’re healthy and live in an area with no community transmission.

If you live in a COVID-19 hotspot and leave home for an essential reason, you may have to wear a cloth or surgical mask in public — if you’re aged 12 or older.

Before and after you put on your cloth mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser containing more than 60% alcohol.

You should change the mask as soon as it becomes damp or dirty. Do not reuse single-use masks.

Learn more about how masks can help prevent COVID-19.

Who is a ‘close contact’?

The following definitions of close contacts are used during contact tracing to rapidly identify anyone who may have COVID-19 — when there is limited or no community transmission of COVID-19.

You are a close contact if you have been near someone with COVID-19 while they have been infectious. There is a reasonable chance a close contact will get infected with COVID-19.

Contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 needs to have occurred during that case’s infectious period — a period which extends from 48 hours before the case’s onset of symptoms until they are classified as no longer infectious.

Close contacts can either be a primary or a secondary close contact.

Who is a 'primary close contact'?

You are a primary close contact if you:

  • have face-to-face contact for more than 15 minutes with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19 or
  • share a space — such as a room — for more than 2 hours with someone who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19

In some circumstances, close contacts might be defined based on shorter interactions.

Primary close contacts must quarantine for 14 days following the last possible contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, during the case’s infectious period. Primary close contacts must quarantine for 14 days regardless of any negative test result.

Who is a 'secondary close contact'?

You are a secondary close contact if you:

  • have face-to-face contact for more than 15 minutes with someone who is a primary close contact of a person who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19 or
  • share a space — such as a room — for more than 2 hours with someone who is a primary close contact of a person who’s been diagnosed with COVID-19

Secondary close contacts will be quarantined until the relevant public health unit is certain that the primary close contact was not infectious at the time they last had contact with the secondary close contact. This can be determined if the:

  • primary contact returns a negative test result,
  • exposure time is not consistent with transmission
  • contact with the primary contact is not ongoing, for example, they don’t live in the same household

Close contact can happen in many ways, such as:

  • living in the same household or household-like setting — for example, a boarding school or hostel
  • direct contact with the body fluids or laboratory specimens of a person diagnosed with COVID-19
  • being in the same room or office for 2 hours or more
  • face-to-face contact for more than 15 minutes in a closed setting
  • transmission in an indoor environment and there are concerns about the nature of contact in that place of exposure — for example, the contact has been exposed to shouting or singing
  • exposure to a setting where there is a high prevalence of infection — for example, a country where there is community transmission of COVID-19, or unprotected exposure in a quarantine hotel for returned travellers

Please refer to your state or territory’s government health departments to see how they apply the definitions of close contacts.

Who are not considered ‘close contacts’?

Healthcare workers and other contacts who have used full PPE and taken recommended precautions to control infections, while caring for symptomatic confirmed COVID-19 cases are not considered close contacts.

Who is a ‘casual contact’?

A casual contact is someone who has been near a confirmed case of COVID-19 while that confirmed case was infectious, but for shorter periods than those which contribute to the definition of a close contact.

If a household member has returned from overseas, does everyone else in the household need to self-isolate?

All travellers who arrive in Australia by air or sea must quarantine for 14 days at a state or territory-designated facility, such as a hotel.

So when the person comes home after mandatory quarantine, if they are feeling well, no one else in the household will need to self-isolate.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

If the Symptom Checker tells you to contact your GP, please make sure you call your doctor to describe your symptoms and contact with a confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) case. You can also attend a COVID-19 clinic in your area.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

Australia has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine for use.

The Australian Government is tracking the progress of potential COVID-19 vaccines. It has 4 agreements to supply COVID-19 vaccines — if they’re proven safe and effective. The agreements are with:

  • the University of Oxford in partnership with company AstraZeneca
  • Novavax
  • Pfizer and BioNTech
  • the COVAX facility, which provides access to COVID-19 vaccines when they become available

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

I've heard that COVID-19 can be transmitted through faeces. Is this true?

Transmission via faeces hasn’t been established. In the absence of diarrhoea, transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely. Hand washing is critical to preventing viruses in general, so always wash your hands thoroughly after going to the toilet.

What is the Government’s ‘Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia’?

The ‘Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia’ is a 3-step plan to reopen the economy in ways that keep people safe from COVID-19 transmission. It’s up to each state and territory to decide when it begins each step. The National Cabinet, made up of state, territory and federal leaders, will review their progress.

Step 1 aims to reconnect family and friends by allowing slightly more people to gather in public and visit homes. Some hospitality, shops and community areas will open, and kids will go back to school. Some regional travel will be possible and there will be small increases to the number of people who can attend weddings and funerals.

Step 2 will increase the size of public gatherings and guests to homes again. Even more retailers and services can open, and there may be some interstate travel.

Step 3 will allow for bigger public gatherings and more domestic travel. The plan’s timing and progress will depend on public health advice, and states and territories won't move to the next step unless it's safe to do so.

The plan’s timing and progress will depend on public health advice, and states and territories won't move to the next step unless it's safe to do so.

For information on the easing of restrictions in your state or territory, use the healthdirect Restriction Checker.

You can see the Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia here.

Looking for more information?

Visit healthdirect's COVID-19 information hub for more answers to questions about the coronavirus, or use these COVID-19 tools and resources:

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

VACCINATIONS — Find out how COVID-19 vaccines have been developed, how they work and when you might be eligible.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2021


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

How to protect yourself and others from coronavirus (COVID-19) | Australian Government Department of Health

There are important steps you should take to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect yourself and those who are most at risk.

Read more on Department of Health website

Home quarantine plan

Read more on St John Ambulance Australia website

What are the rules of quarantine? - MyDr.com.au

The rules for quarantine seem to be different, depending on whether you have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has it.

Read more on myDr website

Face masks, teenagers & COVID-19 | Raising Children Network

Teenagers will have mixed reactions to face masks during COVID-19. Talking, role-modelling and negotiating can help teens adjust to seeing and wearing masks.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Masks and COVID-19 - Musculoskeletal Australia (MSK)

There’s a lot of information and misinformation about wearing masks for protection against COVID-19. We provide you with the facts so you can make an informed decision,

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Video: Choosing a face mask - MyDr.com.au

What's the best face mask to protect against coronavirus? Dr Norman Swan examines the options.

Read more on myDr website

Face masks & COVID-19: supporting children | Raising Children Network

Children will have varying reactions to seeing face masks during COVID-19. You can help children explore feelings and cope by talking and playing together.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has begun, but if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you might be wondering whether it is safe for you to get vaccinated.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

COVID-19 vaccination program | SA Health

About COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination programs to protect yourself and others and help stop the spread of coronavirus in South Australia.

Read more on SA Health website

COVID-19 | SA Health

Health information about coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for South Australians. Find COVID-19 testing clinics and read the latest health updates and advice on COVID-19.

Read more on SA Health website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo