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COVID-19 isolation and quarantine

17-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.

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Both isolation and quarantine are measures that reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Isolation

Isolation separates people with COVID-19 or suspected of having COVID-19, from people who do not have the virus. If you are required to isolate, you will need to do so in your home, in other accommodation or in hospital if you need care.

You must isolate if:

  • you have tested positive for COVID-19
  • you have symptoms and health authorities suspect you have COVID-19

If you are a confirmed COVID-19 case, anyone who is a close contact will need to quarantine.

Quarantine

Quarantine is when you are well but may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19. If this happens, you will be required to stay at home or in other accommodation. The quarantine period is 14 days from when you may have been in contact with the virus.

You must quarantine if you:

  • have returned to Australia from overseas
  • have been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case or is likely to have COVID-19 — including contact in the 48 hours before they became unwell
  • are entering certain remote areas of Australia, unless you are exempt
  • are entering a state that requires you to quarantine

You must complete 14 days of quarantine if a public health authority directs you to.

If you remain well after 14 days, you can leave quarantine. If you develop symptoms during this time, you will need to get tested for COVID-19. Even if you test negative, you must stay in quarantine for the full 14 days.

Public health units may consider testing when you enter and/or leave quarantine for the following reasons:

  • Entry testing: If a person receives a positive test result and their household isn’t ideal for quarantining they would be moved to an alternative location — and contact tracing would be conducted.
  • Exit testing: If a person was asymptomatic, someone with COVID-19 and no symptoms, or has under-reported symptoms and tested positive on days 10 to 12, they would be directed to isolate to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Entry and exit testing are important if the contact is associated with a high-risk setting.

If you test positive, you will need to isolate. Anyone who has been in your household is a close contact and must quarantine.

Emergency situations

If you are in isolation or quarantine and experience any emergency symptoms — such as difficulty breathing — or need essential healthcare, seek urgent health advice or call triple zero (000). You must inform the staff that you are in isolation or quarantine because of COVID-19.

If you experience any other emergency, such as family violence, you are permitted to leave — if possible, tell your public health unit before leaving your house. If you leave, you must wear a mask and practise physical distancing.

How do I isolate?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for COVID-19, you must stay at home or in your accommodation until a health authority or your GP say you can stop isolating.

Don’t go to public places or places where you might have contact with other people, such as work, school, childcare, university or public gatherings. You should not have any visitors.

You can only leave home in an emergency or to obtain essential medical care. Someone can only enter your home in an emergency, if they provide you with medical care, or if they live with you and cannot live anywhere else.

When travelling home or to your accommodation to start isolation, use personal transport, such as a car, if you can. This will minimise your exposure to others.

Only people who usually live with you should be in the same accommodation but you must, if practical, isolate from them as well. If you have household members who are close contacts, they will have to quarantine and get tested if they develop symptoms.

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 COVID-19 case. You can also attend a COVID-19 clinic in your area.

What if I am a confirmed case of COVID-19?

If you are well enough to remain in your home or accommodation, you should:

  • stay at home and 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
  • avoid sharing dishes, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding or other items with other people — after using these items, wash them thoroughly with soap and water
  • wear a mask (which your doctor will provide) when in the same room as other people
  • ensure others wear a face mask and gloves when in the same room as you — and especially if they need to have contact with your blood, body fluids or secretions
  • wear a mask if you need to go out to seek healthcare
  • ask others, such as friends or family who are not required to isolate, to get food or other necessities for you (but restrict visitors who do not need to be in your home)
  • stay in a different room from other people or be separated from them as much as possible
  • avoid contact with elderly people and those with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions such as chronic heart, lung or kidney conditions and diabetes.

Public health officers will contact you every day to check on your condition and let you know when 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 (3 days) after your symptoms are gone. They will also give you a phone number to call if you have questions.

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 COVID-19 clinic.
  • Call ahead before visiting the doctor or attending a COVID-19 clinic 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 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 case of COVID-19.

If you have COVID-19, people who have had close contact with you, including family members and people you live with, will need to quarantine for 14 days from their last contact with you. This includes close contact in the 48 hours before you became unwell.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for more information about isolation and quarantine. Information is also available in other languages.

I’ve had symptoms, self-isolated, and received a negative test result before completing the 14-day isolation period. Should I continue isolating?

If you test negative but you have a history of close contact with a case of COVID-19, you should complete your 14 days of self-isolation.

If you have not had a history of close contact and you test negative, you should self-isolate until your symptoms are gone. This is because your symptoms may be due to another respiratory infection.

If you are unsure what to do, ask your doctor or healthcare provider how long you need to keep self-isolating.

Your state or territory may have specific legal requirements for self-isolating or quarantining — particularly after domestic travel. Your state or territory may also impose penalties if you do not comply. Check their website for more information.

When you are allowed to finish self-isolation, continue to practise physical distancing and good hygiene.

Who must quarantine?

You must quarantine if:

  • you have returned to Australia from overseas
  • you have been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case or is likely to have COVID-19 — including contact in the 48 hours before they became unwell
  • are entering certain remote areas in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory — unless exempt
  • are entering a state that requires you to quarantine

People in specific settings

If you live or work in one of these settings, be especially mindful of the symptoms of COVID-19 and don't go to work if you are unwell. If there is an outbreak in your workplace, please follow the instructions of the Public Health Unit and your employer's COVID-19 policy. These settings include:

  • aged care and other residential care facilities
  • military operational settings
  • boarding schools
  • prisons and other correctional facilities
  • detention centres
  • Aboriginal rural and remote communities — talk to your local Public Health Unit regarding these areas
  • any other settings where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred — talk to your local Public Health Unit for more information

How long should I stay in quarantine?

If you’re still well after 14 days, you can leave quarantine.

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

If you develop the following symptoms in quarantine, you’ll be considered a suspect case and you must get tested for COVID-19:

  • fever — a temperature of 37.5°C or higher, or history of fever (for example, night sweats or chills) OR
  • respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath or sore throat OR
  • loss of smell or loss of taste

If you test positive, you must self-isolate. Anyone who has been in your household is considered a close contact and must quarantine. If you test negative, you must continue to quarantine as advised for the remaining 14-day period.

Do airline and cruise ship staff need to quarantine?

Pilots and airline crew on active duty are exempt from these quarantine rules — provided they do not have symptoms, have used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and have taken the required health precautions.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health website for information for the airline industry.

Cruise ships from foreign ports are currently not permitted to dock in Australian ports. Read more about this in Travel advice and restrictions or visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.

What are the criteria for confirmed cases of COVID-19 to be released from isolation?

As there are new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the time that you can be released from isolation depends on the variant.

Confirmed cases NOT infected with new variants

1. Confirmed cases who are asymptomatic

Case can be released from isolation if at least 10 days have passed since the first positive COVID-19 test was taken and no symptoms have developed during this period.

2. Confirmed cases with mild illness

If someone has COVID-19 with mild illness, which doesn’t require hospitalisation or being admitted to hospital for reasons not directly related to acute COVID-19, for example infection control, they can stop isolating if:

  • it's been at least 10 days since they first started getting symptoms, AND
  • their fever has resolved and there is substantial improvement of respiratory symptoms of the acute illness for the past 72 hours

3. Confirmed cases with more severe illness

If someone has COVID-19 with severe illness, where the severity would warrant hospitalisation irrespective of whether the case was hospitalised or not, they can be released from isolation if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • a. Confirmed cases with resolution of fever and respiratory symptoms of acute illness:
    • at least 14 days have passed since symptoms began; and
    • fever and respiratory symptoms of the acute illness have resolved in the previous 72 hours
  • b. Confirmed cases without respiratory symptoms of acute illness completely resolving:
    • at least 20 days have passed since symptoms began; and
    • the case is not significantly immunocompromised

OR

  • Cases can also be released from isolation if they meet all the following criteria:
    • at least 14 days have passed since their symptoms began
    • there has been substantial improvement in respiratory symptoms of the acute illness (including fever resolving in the previous 72 hours) and
    • the case has had 2 consecutive negative COVID PCR tests at least 24 hours apart and at least 11 days from when symptoms began

4. Confirmed cases who are significantly immunocompromised

In addition to meeting the appropriate criteria described for asymptomatic confirmed cases, confirmed cases with mild illness and confirmed cases with severe illness whose fever and respiratory symptoms of acute illness resolve, they should meet the following additional criteria:

  • test PCR negative on at least 2 consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart and at least 7 days after symptom onset

Some people may have pre-existing illnesses with chronic respiratory signs or symptoms, such as a chronic cough. Others may have ongoing effects of COVID-19 that result in a continuing shortness of breath or post viral cough. In this case, the treating doctor should assess whether the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 have resolved.

Confirmed cases infected with new coronavirus variant

All cases must fulfil the following criteria to be considered for release from isolation:

  • at least 14 days have passed since symptoms began or a positive COVID-19 test if asymptomatic, and
  • fever and respiratory symptoms of the illness have resolved in the past 72 hours

In addition to the above criteria, cases must have a COVID-19 test taken on either day 12 or 13 from when symptoms began, or from the first positive COVID-19 test date for asymptomatic cases. They will be managed according to public health and laboratory review, based on their PCR test and serology test result.

How do I look after my mental wellbeing in quarantine?

Mandatory quarantine is an unfamiliar experience for most people, and it can be challenging. The Australian Government has produced a guide on how to prepare for quarantine and how to look after yourself.

Some ideas on how to spend your time in quarantine include the following:

  • Stay informed — visit health.gov.au and your state or territory government website for the latest news and information on COVID-19.
  • Set a daily schedule — try to structure your day to help you balance your time.
  • Exercise — staying healthy is important, so do exercise and stretches in your room.
  • Get enough sleep — research shows that not getting enough sleep can prevent your T-cells, a type of white blood cell, from fighting infection. Here are some tips to improve your sleep.
  • Do an online class  or start to learn a new language.
  • Start a new hobby — examples of activities include drawing or knitting.
  • Catch up with family and friends online.
  • Learn yoga with an online instructional video.
  • Practise meditation — download Smiling Mind, a free mindfulness app developed for young people by psychologists and educators. It includes programs in a number of Aboriginal languages, including Kriol, Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjatjara.
  • Take a digital tour or listen to an online concert — many museums and galleries have virtual tours available on their websites.

You can also access a range of mental health support services when you are in mandatory quarantine.

Further, most quarantine facilities can provide you with access to on-call and in-person mental health support. Check with your quarantine provider about how to access this support.

How do I look after my mental wellbeing when self-isolating?

Some ways to take care of your mental health while you’re isolating include:

  • Keeping in touch with your family and friends via phone, video calls or social media.
  • Forming and keeping a daily routine such as showering and getting dressed each day, maintaining regular mealtimes and exercising at home.
  • Learning more about COVID-19 from credible sources, since this might help alleviate any anxiety.
  • Doing or trying new activities such as drawing or learning a language online.
  • Being outdoors such as in your backyard, a private courtyard or balcony, as it helps to get fresh air.

Go here for more ideas on how to stay healthy in mandatory quarantine or at home.

Can I return to work in a high risk setting?

People returning to a high risk setting can end their isolation based on the same criteria as other confirmed cases. They do not need to meet a higher standard or have an additional assessment before going into any high-risk settings. This includes people returning to work in a health care setting, living in a residential aged care setting, or who regularly attend healthcare settings for any other reason.

If they meet the above criteria, they are not required to isolate, quarantine or to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to residential aged care or any other setting.

All recovered cases should continue to follow community guidelines, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask. Healthcare workers should continue to use the appropriate PPE as recommended when caring for COVID-19 patients, or in settings where there’s potential exposure.

People who currently have COVID-19 and are living in the same household with someone who has recovered should remain isolated as much as possible.

I’m worried about people who return to work or school or go out in public after isolation.

People can return to daily activities, if they have completed the 14–day isolation period and they have not shown any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 during this time.

A majority of people who need to quarantine because they have been travelling will not go on to develop symptoms.

Will people who return to work or school after isolation need any documentation?

Medical clearance or documentation is not required for people who return to work after 14 days of isolation, provided they showed no symptoms or signs of being unwell while in isolation.

Workplaces are encouraged to accept leave requests, without requiring medical clearance, for employees who need to self-isolate for 14 days and who have not experienced any signs or symptoms.

You can read about returning to school or childcare 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: April 2021


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