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Hospital and intensive care for COVID-19

8-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Quick read and other languages

Know how to recognise severe symptoms that will need medical attention. Also available in 15 languages.

Why might I need to go to hospital?

Most people with COVID-19 will recover without needing to go to hospital or receiving any special treatment — especially if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, if you or someone in your care develop any of the following symptoms of COVID-19, this indicates more severe or serious illness so you should go to hospital for treatment:

  • breathlessness at rest, and/or you’re unable to speak in sentences
  • unconscious, faint or drowsy
  • skin or lips turning blue or pale
  • cold and clammy, or pale and mottled, skin
  • pain or pressure in the chest
  • confusion
  • becoming difficult to wake up
  • not passing urine (wee) or passing a lot less urine than usual
  • coughing up blood

Refer to your COVID-19 Action Plan, if you have one. It will advise of what to do and who to contact.

Your GP may advise you to go to hospital if you experience other symptoms, depending on your health and circumstances.

Some people may need to be admitted to hospital if they are at a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms.

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

How do I get to hospital in an emergency?

If you experience severe symptoms of COVID-19, call emergency services on triple zero (000) immediately. If you can’t call, ask someone else to.

Tell the phone operator that you have COVID-19 and are experiencing severe symptoms and that you need an ambulance.

Do not wait for your healthcare provider to contact you if you have symptoms that are causing you concern.

If you are well enough to go to hospital for emergency medical care without an ambulance, use private transport or walk.

When you arrive at the hospital, tell healthcare workers that you have COVID-19.

You must:

  • wear a face mask
  • keep your distance from other people as much as possible
  • use hand sanitiser

How do I prepare for hospital?

If you need to go to hospital and are well enough to prepare for your stay, organise time off work and anything else that needs attending to while you’re in hospital.

Bring your Medicare, private health-insurance and concession cards, referral letters. This will facilitate your admission.

Don’t forget to bring your medication with you if you take any. It’s best to keep it in its original packaging. You should also bring other health aids such as hearing aids glasses, walking aids.

If you are staying overnight, bring loose-fitting clothing, night clothes, non slip footwear and toiletries such as your toothbrush.

If your GP has done an action plan bring it with you as it will have relevant information about you on it.

Wear a face mask and bring hand sanitiser.

If your doctor has referred you to hospital, you may go through a pre-admission process. This may involve confirming your personal details and medical history and explaining what will happen during your hospital stay. This is a good time to ask any questions you may have. You may find it helpful to take notes.

What can I expect if I go to hospital?

If you are seriously sick with COVID-19, you may be immediately admitted to hospital through its emergency department after calling triple zero (000) and getting an ambulance. Depending on how unwell you are, you may be placed in intensive care.

If you don’t need intensive care, but still need care in a hospital, you may be admitted to a room or ward.

Where available, COVID-19 patients will be cared for in rooms that lower the risk of transmission, such as rooms with negative pressure or negative airflow.

During your stay, healthcare workers will look after you and involve you in their discussions about the most appropriate care for you.

An allied health professional may assist you in your recovery. This may include physiotherapy or occupational therapy.

If English is not your first language, you can request an interpreter to help you during your stay.

How much will my COVID-19 treatment cost?

If you have a Medicare card, you can access a range of healthcare services at a lower cost or with no out-of-pocket expenses, including medical services from doctors, specialists, other health professionals, hospital treatment and prescription medicines.

If you have treatment as a public patient at a public hospital, you do not pay anything for the medical services provided.

Services Australia has information on who is eligible for Medicare and how to enrol.

Costs for many private treatments are also fully covered by Medicare and private health insurers. However, you may have to pay out-of-pocket costs if you have medical treatment as a private patient in a private or public hospital.

If you get tested for COVID-19 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.

If your health deteriorates and you need an ambulance to get to hospital, you may have to pay a fee — it depends on which state you’re in and whether you have private health insurance.

  • In Tasmania and Queensland, ambulance services are generally free to state residents.
  • In NSW, if you need treatment and/or transport related to COVID-19 — including if you have had an adverse reaction to a vaccine — you will be exempt from paying the invoice.
  • In Victoria, ‘special consideration’ is given if you need an ambulance service because you are a COVID-19-positive patient. If this applies to you, you should contact Ambulance Victoria online or on 1800 990 029.
  • In other states and territories, you will usually be charged for ambulance services.

Related topics

Symptoms and when to get help

Symptoms and when to get help

Learn to recognise mild, moderate and severe symptoms of COVID-19, and when to seek medical advice from your GP or another healthcare professional.

How to monitor COVID symptoms with an oximeter

How to monitor symptoms

If you’re able to manage your COVID-19 at home, you might be asked to follow a management plan. Learn how to check your breathing rate, oxygen levels and heart rate.

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

Last reviewed: October 2022

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