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Seeing a doctor and getting tested for COVID-19

15-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).

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

If you have any of these symptoms, you should consider getting tested for COVID-19 — even if your symptoms are mild. You can also use the healthdirect Symptom Checker if you're not sure what to do.

To get tested, contact your GP or visit a COVID-19 testing clinic near you (see 'Where can I find a COVID-19 testing clinic?' below).

Make sure you call your doctor's clinic before your visit and tell staff about your symptoms and any travel history. 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 the 48 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 fatigue 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.

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Your doctor (GP), or staff at a testing clinic or hospital emergency department will 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.

If you have any questions about your results, contact the clinic, GP practice or hospital where the test was carried out.

Where can I find a COVID-19 testing clinic?

Find a COVID clinic in your area, visit:

How much does a COVID-19 test cost?

If you get tested at a public health facility, mobile testing centre or GP medical practice that offers bulk billing, you won't have to pay for the test. You might have to pay to see your GP if they don't offer bulk billing, but the test itself is free.

You’ll need to bring your Medicare card with you or if you don't have a Medicare card, bring at least one form of identification, such as your driver's licence or student ID. You’ll also need to provide your contact details so you can get your test results.

What do I need to do before I get tested?

The COVID-19 test is done by taking a swab of the back of your throat and your nose. You don't need to fast beforehand or take any samples with you.

Depending on where you are getting tested, you might need to make an appointment, so it's best to call ahead. However, most mobile or drive-through testing clinics don’t require an appointment. If you are visiting a private pathology clinic for a test, you may need a referral from your doctor.

You will need to bring your Medicare card with you and if you don't have a Medicare card, bring at least one form of identification, such as your driver's licence or student ID. You'll also need to provide your contact details so you can get your test results.

If you get tested at a GP practice, ask the staff how you will receive your results.

If you get tested at a public health facility, mobile testing centre or GP that offers bulk billing, you won't have to pay for the test. You may have to pay to see your GP if they don't offer bulk billing, but the test itself is free.

After your test, you should follow the instructions of your doctor or healthcare professional at the testing clinic. In most cases, you will be instructed to go straight home and wait for your results. Don’t go out in public, including going to work or school. Practise good hand and cough hygiene, and avoid close contact with other people, including members of your own household.

When will I get COVID-19 test results?

Your doctor or the staff at the testing clinic should tell you how long it will take to get your results. It typically takes 1 to 3 days for people to get their COVID-19 test results. But because of the significant number of tests being processed, it may take up to 5 days.

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

  • stay at home and don't go to 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 you can't stay 1.5 metres from other people

If your test result is negative, you will receive an SMS text message or a phone call from the doctor or clinic that took your test. If your test result is negative but you have a history of close contact with a case of COVID-19, you must complete your 14 days of self-isolation.

If your test result is positive, you will receive a phone call from a doctor or a Public Health Unit to let you know what you should do next. You might also be contacted about contact tracing. 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.

The Australian Coronavirus Helpline does not receive test results. If you have any questions about your results, contact the clinic, GP practice or hospital where the test was carried out.

Household contacts of suspected cases undergoing testing do not need to be in isolation.

What happens 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 will usually be after at least 10 days from when you first started showing symptoms, and 72 hours (or 3 days) after your symptoms are gone.

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 48 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 are a confirmed 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 are a confirmed 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 are a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.

Are there enough COVID-19 testing kits in Australia?

More than 8.5 million COVID-19 tests have been undertaken in Australia so far and more test kits have been secured.

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

Can I get tested for COVID-19 in my home?

Testing for COVID-19 is a matter for states and territories, so visit your state or territory website for more information — or to find local testing centres.

Sydney, New South Wales

People living in Sydney can arrange self-collection tests at home by visiting covidtestsydney.com.au. To get the test, you will first need to complete a questionnaire on the website.

South Australia

Patients need a referral from their GP in metropolitan and regional SA to access home-based COVID-19 testing services. Go to sahealth.sa.gov.au and search for ‘COVID-19 Clinics and Testing Centres’ for more information.

Victoria

The free Call-to-Test service can provide in-home COVID-19 testing to Melbourne-based Victorians who are unable to leave their home to get tested. This includes older people, Victorians with a disability or mental health issue, carers and people with a chronic health condition that affects mobility.

To be eligible, callers must either have COVID-19 symptoms or be asymptomatic but identified by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as a close contact.

Call the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398 and select option 9. An operator can discuss your options and support you through the process. To learn more about the Call-to-Test service, visit dhhs.vic.gov.au/call-to-test-covid-19.

Aged-care homes

The Commonwealth Government has engaged Sonic Healthcare to provide a pathology service for residents of aged-care homes. A specialised collector will attend an aged-care facility if a doctor requests for a test. If a result is positive, Sonic will send a specialised COVID-19 collection team to collect samples from all staff and residents.

If you're unwell and think you might have COVID-19, check your symptoms using the healthdirect Symptom Checker.

Call your doctor for advice. You can also access telehealth services, which are subsidised by Medicare.

You can use telephone or video conferencing from your own home or aged-care facility.

Do self-collected tests for COVID-19 work?

Self-collection kits are a convenient, safe and efficient way of getting tested. Many people report less discomfort when collecting a swab themselves. Self-collected swabs are equivalent to combined deep nasal and throat swabs collected by healthcare workers. Instructions provided must be followed carefully.

Currently, people living in Sydney can arrange a self-collection test to do at home by visiting covidtestsydney.com.au.

People in Adelaide will need to ask their GP for a specimen collection request form. Go to sahealth.sa.gov.au for more information.

Department of Health online instructions can show you how to use a swab to collect a sample from your throat and nose. You’ll find a one-page PDF guide on the Department of Health website at health.gov.au. Click on ‘Resources’ then enter the search term ‘swab’.

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

If you have returned from overseas, you will be quarantined in state or territory-designated accommodation. This will be in the city where you first enter Australia, even if this is not your end destination.

If you develop symptoms such as a fever (temperature of 37.5°C or more and feverish symptoms such as chills or night sweats), or you have an acute respiratory infection (such as cough, shortness of breath or sore throat), please advise the staff where you are being quarantined so medical assistance can be provided.

If you’re quarantined in New South Wales or Victoria, you’ll be asked to take a COVID-19 test on day 10 (NSW) or day 11 (Vic) of your quarantine. If the test is negative, you'll be allowed to leave once the 14 days of quarantine is completed. If you refuse the test, you'll be quarantined for a further 10 days.

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 (also available in other languages).

Can I access telehealth services?

Medicare-subsidised telehealth consultations are now available. If you aren’t comfortable going to — or are unable to go to — your doctor, you can access telehealth services with your phone or computer for bulk-billed GP consultations. You can use 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
  • other services, such as podiatry, audiology or optometry

Face-to-face services consultations are still available.

All vulnerable GPs 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

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

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

What if I don't have Medicare?

Most people who are not eligible for Medicare in Australia will have private 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 won't see you, consider contacting another doctor or a COVID-19 clinic in your area. Your doctor may also consider a Medicare-subsidised telehealth consultation (see 'Can I access telehealth services?' above).

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 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.


More frequently asked questions (FAQs) about COVID-19

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

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).


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: October 2020


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