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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.

Quick read and other languages

Find out when you can expect to recover from COVID-19 and return to normal activities. Also available in 15 languages.

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 with COVID-19 are considered 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 recovered after 7 days if they have been asymptomatic or have not developed any new symptoms during this time. But some people may be infectious for up to 10 days.

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

People who experience more serious illness may take weeks to recover. Symptoms may continue for several weeks after infection. Some people may develop long-term health problems caused by COVID-19.

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?

It is possible to get COVID-19 again after your recovery. If you get new COVID-19 symptoms after recovering from COVID-19, you should get tested again, regardless of whether you have had contact with a confirmed case. You should stay at home until you are well. People in the territories must report their results.

If you are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 and develop new symptoms after recovering from COVID-19, see your doctor. They may advise you to get tested for COVID-19 test as well as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

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 as evidence that you no longer have COVID-19, and your employer should not ask you to be tested to return to work.

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.

Ongoing symptoms like fatigue may get worse after you exercise. This can be known as “crashing” or “relapse”. This is described in scientific terms as “post-exertional malaise”, or PEM for short.

People with PEM typically feel worse for hours or days after doing something active or mental.

Recovery normally takes 24 hours or longer. PEM can affect your energy levels, concentration, sleep and memory. It can cause muscle and joint pain, and flu-like symptoms.

Introduce exercise into your weekly plans slowly and carefully. 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 non-urgent surgery (classified as 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 6 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 6-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 Service 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: March 2023

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