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Seeing a doctor and getting tested for COVID-19

11-minute read

IMPORTANT: 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 or probable COVID-19.

Check your symptoms

Use the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

When should I see my doctor?

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can have a range of symptoms (from no symptoms at all to pneumonia).

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker to find out what to do next.

If the Symptom Checker tells you to seek medical help, call your doctor’s clinic or the hospital before your visit and tell staff about your symptoms and travel history before your visit. You should also let them know if you’ve had close contact with a person with a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 (including in 24 hours before they became unwell).

While COVID-19 is of concern, it's important to remember that most people with symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness will have a cold or other respiratory illness — not COVID-19.

If you don’t have any symptoms, you do not need to be tested for COVID-19 (see ‘I don’t have symptoms but would like to be tested for COVID-19...’).

Can I access telehealth services?

If you aren’t comfortable going to, or are unable to go to, your doctor, you can also access Medicare-subsidised telehealth services. You can use your phone or computer for bulk-billed GP consultations using apps such as FaceTime or Skype.

You can also use Medicare-funded telehealth to access services such as:

  • mental health treatment
  • chronic disease management
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments
  • treatment for eating disorders
  • pregnancy support counselling
  • services to patients in aged care facilities
  • services for children with autism
  • after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners

Face-to-face services consultations will still be available.

All vulnerable general practitioners and other health professionals can continue to conduct consultations with patients using telehealth services.

This includes healthcare providers who are:

  • aged at least 70 years old
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders and aged at least 50 years old
  • a parent of a child under 12 months
  • immune compromised
  • living with a chronic medical condition that results in increased risk from coronavirus infection

I have returned from another country. Should I see a doctor?

If you develop symptoms such as a fever (temperature of 38°C or more and feverish symptoms such as chills or night sweats), or you have an acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath or sore throat), you should self-isolate and seek medical advice immediately.

If you have returned from overseas, even if you are well, you must be isolated for 14 days from the date you arrived in Australia. Isolation means remaining at a home or in your accommodation, and it also applies to children. If your child needs to be isolated, they cannot go to school or childcare.

From midnight, Saturday 28 March 2020, all travellers who arrive in Australia from another country will be quarantined for 14 days at a state or territory-designated facility, such as a hotel. The facility will generally be in the city where the traveller enters Australia.

These arrangements will be enforced by the state or territory government with the support of the Australian Defence Force and Australian Border Force if required.

Air and maritime crews must continue to follow their current arrangements, where they self-isolate in their accommodation if they enter Australia until their next work voyage.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for information for travellers arriving from overseas (available in English, Chinese, Farsi, Korean and Italian).

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Your doctor (GP), or staff at a testing clinic or hospital emergency department may take swabs from the back of your nose and throat to diagnose your illness. Swabs and fluid are sent to public health laboratories for testing for COVID-19.

Are there enough COVID-19 testing kits in Australia?

More than 230,000 tests COVID-19 tests have been undertaken in Australia so far. More test kits have been secured and the Doherty Institute in Melbourne has developed an alternative testing process.

It’s very important that COVID-19 testing is only done for people that meet certain clinical criteria. As the colder months begin, there may be other viruses in the community, so COVID-19 testing will be prioritised for certain people.

If I get tested for COVID-19, how long before I get the results?

This will depend on when the specimens were collected and how quickly these specimens can be delivered to the laboratory. In most cases, you will usually find out within one day if the test is positive or negative.

If your symptoms are serious, you will stay in hospital — isolated from other patients to prevent further possible spread of the virus. If your doctor says you are well enough to return home while you are waiting for your test results, you should:

  • stay at home and do not attend work or school
  • wash your hands often with soap and water
  • cough and sneeze into your elbow
  • avoid cooking for or caring for other members of your household
  • wear a mask (provided by your doctor) if close contact with other people is unavoidable

Public health officers will contact you every day to check on your condition. They will also give you a phone number to call if you have questions.

If you become unwell, all other members of your household must self-isolate. Call your doctor (GP) to get medical advice. The doctor will provide further advice on self-isolation and testing for everyone who lives with you.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for information for people with a suspected case of COVID-19 (available in English and Chinese).

What will happen if my test is positive for COVID-19?

If your symptoms are serious, you will stay in hospital — isolated from other patients to prevent further spread of the virus.

If you’re well enough to stay at home, you must remain isolated in your home or accommodation until public health officers tell you it’s safe to return to normal activities. This is likely to be one day after your symptoms have disappeared.

Public health officers will contact you every day to check on your condition. They will also give you a phone number to call if you have questions.

People who have had contact with you, including family members and people you live with, will need to isolate themselves for 14 days from their last contact with you (this includes contact in the 24 hours before your symptoms first appeared).

If your condition gets worse, seek medical attention:

  • Notify public health officers by calling the number provided to you. Follow their instructions; they may tell you to go to a doctor’s clinic or a hospital.
  • Call ahead before visiting the doctor or hospital and tell staff you have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
  • Wear a surgical mask if you need to leave the house.
  • When you arrive at the doctor’s surgery or hospital, tell staff that you have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath:

  • Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • Tell the paramedics on arrival that you have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

I don’t have symptoms but would like to be tested for COVID-19. Where can I get tested?

Currently in Australia, the people most at risk of infection are those who have travelled overseas, and those who have been in close contact with someone with confirmed or probable COVID-19.

If neither of these circumstances apply to you, the risk to you and your family is low. You do not need to be tested for COVID-19 if you do not have any symptoms. Testing will be prioritised for people who have certain symptoms and have a greater chance of being infected.

Is it safe to go to my health clinic or hospital for a regular health appointment?

Yes, it is safe to go to your health clinic or local hospital. Regular attendance at health clinics and hospitals in Australia has not been affected. Hospitals and healthcare workers have been given information about COVID-19 and guidance on how to deal with possible cases.

How is the COVID-19 crisis being managed in hospitals and GP clinics?

Health workers in public hospital emergency departments, as well as community-based GPs, have been issued advice on symptoms. They have been instructed on how to prevent and control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

COVID-19 is now a notifiable condition under the law, which means all cases and suspected cases must be reported by doctors to health authorities. This will help prevent the spread of the infection to others.

What should I do if I'm unable to speak to my doctor?

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

If the Symptom Checker tells you to seek medical help, it is very important that you call before visiting your doctor or the hospital emergency department, to describe your symptoms and travel history.

You can also call the Australian Government's National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

What should I do if I don't have Medicare?

Most people who are not eligible for Medicare in Australia will have health or travel insurance. If you do not have adequate insurance cover, some states and territories (such as NSW and WA) will waive healthcare costs associated with COVID-19 if a person is treated in a state- or territory-run health facility.

This is to ensure payment issues are not a barrier for people from overseas with respiratory symptoms seeking early medical advice.

Ask your doctor or local hospital for more information.

My GP is not seeing patients with suspected COVID-19.

If you have symptoms and your own GP will not see you, consider contacting another doctor or a hospital emergency department. Your doctor may also consider a Medicare-subsidised telehealth consultation (see, 'Can I access telehealth services?' above).

More frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Click on the links below for more questions and answers about the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Information and alerts

Visit the Department of Health's website for the latest alerts on COVID-19 in Australia, or the World Health Organization's website for global updates.

Resources in other languages

Information for health professionals

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) provides coronavirus (COVID-19) information for GPs.

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

Last reviewed: March 2020

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