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Recovery and returning to normal activities after 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.

How long does COVID-19 last? When will I recover?

The COVID-19 infection period varies from person to person. Most people with COVID-19 will have a mild illness and will recover in a few days.

Generally, people are considered to be infectious from 48 hours before symptoms start. In high-risk settings, they may be considered infectious from 72 hours before symptoms start.

People with mild illness are generally considered to be recovered after 7 days if they have been asymptomatic or have not developed any new symptoms during this time.

Symptoms in children and babies are milder than those in adults, and some infected kids may not show any signs of being unwell.

People at higher risk of serious illness may take weeks to recover. If a person develops long-term health problems caused by COVID-19, symptoms most commonly continue for 2 to 8 weeks after infection.

Can someone test positive to COVID-19 even though they are no longer infected?

Sometimes, people can get a positive COVID-19 test result even though they no longer have COVID-19. This is because people with COVID-19 have infected cells in their body that release the virus into the environment through breathing, sneezing or coughing, or through their faeces and urine. This is called ‘viral shedding’.

After recovering from COVID-19, some people can have non-infectious fragments of the virus left in their bodies for some time.

Can I catch COVID-19 again and what should I do if so?

A person can be reinfected with COVID-19 as soon as 28 days after recovering from a previous COVID-19 infection. This means if you had COVID-19, you don’t need to be retested for COVID-19 in the 28 days since completing isolation, even if you have symptoms.

If more than 28 days have passed since completing isolation and you develop new symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 and stay home until you get your result. If you test positive to COVID-19, you are considered a new COVID-19 case and you must follow the isolation rules for positive cases.

If more than 28 days have passed since completing isolation and you are considered a close contact, you should get tested and follow the rules for close contacts.

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself against reinfection. It’s also important to keep up measures like hand washing, wearing a mask and physical distancing.

Do I need a medical certificate or negative test result to return to work after isolating?

You don't need a medical certificate and your employer should not ask you to be tested for COVID-19 to return to work.

You need to continue to follow any restrictions that apply to the community in your state or territory.

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

When can I start exercising again?

Exercise plays an important role in COVID-19 recovery. If you’re recovering from moderate or severe illness you should speak with your healthcare provider before returning to exercise.

However, if your symptoms were mild, you can start exercising again if:

  • you’ve had at least 7 days with no symptoms
  • you’ve had 10 days of rest since symptoms started
  • you’re no longer taking any medications such as paracetamol

Start with 15 minutes of light activity and see how you feel. This can include going for a walk or a bike ride. Pay attention to your heart rate and breathing as you exercise. Over time, you can slowly introduce longer and harder workouts.

If you have any of the following symptoms, stop exercising immediately and contact your healthcare provider:

  • unexpected breathlessness
  • chest pain or palpitations. If you experience severe central crushing chest pain lasting more than 10 minutes call 000
  • signs of blood clotting, such as swollen calves

How long should I wait to have elective surgery after having COVID-19?

If you have a confirmed case of COVID-19, you shouldn’t have elective surgery unless postponing the procedure creates a greater risk to your life.

Your procedure should be delayed until you’re no longer infectious and you have recovered from COVID-19.

If you’re having planned non-urgent surgery (Category 2 and 3) it’s recommended that you wait 7 weeks after your first COVID-19 positive test. This applies to people who were asymptomatic (no symptoms) or symptomatic.

You should speak to your treating doctor about your circumstances.

Do I need the vaccine if I’ve already had COVID-19 in the past?

COVID-19 vaccines are recommended for people who've had COVID-19. If you’ve had a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection, you should delay COVID-19 vaccination for 3 months after recovering.

A longer gap between infection and vaccination is likely to lead to a better immune response and result in longer protection from reinfection.

Serological testing or other testing to detect current or previous infection with COVID-19 before vaccination is neither necessary nor recommended before vaccination.

You may be vaccinated earlier than the recommended 3-month interval if you:

  • are significantly immunocompromised and may be at greater risk of getting COVID-19 again
  • starting an immunosuppressant
  • have a job that requires you to be vaccinated
  • have a job that puts you at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19
  • about to overseas travel
  • you cannot reschedule vaccination easily

You should not be vaccinated until you’ve recovered from the acute illness. People with a past COVID-19 infection should receive all available doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

People with prolonged symptoms from COVID-19 beyond 3 months should be vaccinated on a case-by-case basis. Speak to your healthcare provider.

A healthcare professional can consult with a specialist immunisation service for additional advice if needed.

BOOK YOUR VACCINATION — Use the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder to book your COVID vaccination or booster.

Related topics

Understanding post-COVID-19 symptoms and ‘long COVID’

Understanding post-COVID-19 symptoms and ‘long COVID’

While most people fully recover from having COVID-19, others have found it can take longer to get back to normal. Read more about post-COVID symptoms and 'long COVID' here.

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.

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

Last reviewed: July 2022

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