Answering some of the most common questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19)

Washing your hands properly remains the best available defence when it comes to avoiding the coronavirus. Picture: Shutterstock
Washing your hands properly remains the best available defence when it comes to avoiding the coronavirus. Picture: Shutterstock

The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is causing confusion and many questions about how it may affect people's lives. We sifted through the official advice on health and travel to answer the most common questions.

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Symptoms can range from mild respiratory-type illness to pneumonia.

Early symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, chills, body aches or headache and a shortness of breath. Some people will recover easily and others may get very sick very quickly.

Should you experience any mild symptoms and are concerned, contact your GP in the first instance and seek advice on whether you should be tested, or contact the national hotline on 1800 020 080.

Anyone experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms should ring 000 and when doing so, advise them of your symptoms so paramedics can take appropriate precautions.

Where can I get tested for coronavirus? 

If you experience any of the milder symptoms of the virus, then contact your GP. Before presenting at a surgery, make sure the GP knows of your symptoms.

The ACT government wants people who to go to its two respiratory assessment clinics for testing.

  • The Weston Creek Walk-in Centre (24 Parkinson St, Weston). Open 7.30am-10pm daily. Please ensure you use a mask and hand sanitiser available at the front door.
  • The Drive Through Respiratory Assessment Clinic at Exhibition Park in Canberra (Flemington Rd & Northbourne Ave, Mitchell). Open 9.30am-6pm daily (last car accepted at 5pm). You must be driving or a passenger in a registered motor vehicle or motorbike to attend this clinic. It cannot be accessed from public transport or on foot.

Should I get tested?

To be tested for coronavirus, you need to fit one of these preconditions:

  • You recently travelled overseas or on a cruise ship, and have developed symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of returning back to Australia.
  • You have been in contact with someone who has confirmed COVID-19 and you develop symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of last contact.
  • You are a healthcare or aged care worker with recent onset of respiratory symptoms or fever irrespective of travel history.
  • You live in a high risk setting (such as an aged care or other residential care facility, boarding school, military operational setting, correctional facility or detention centre) and have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You have a link to a setting where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in Australia, and have symptoms of COVID-19.

Who is being asked to self-isolate?

Anyone suspected of being in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus, or who has returned from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days. New arrivals from March 28 will be forced to quarantine in hotels.

Close contact is being defined as:

  1. Someone who has had greater than 15 minutes face-to-face contact in any setting with a confirmed case in the period extending from 24 hours before symptom onset in the confirmed case, or;
  2. Someone who shared a closed space (eg a waiting room) with a confirmed case for a prolonged period (more than two hours) in the period extending from 24 hours before the onset of symptoms.

Airline cabin staff, for instance, might come into contact with someone on a flight who has the virus through handing them a meal or a refreshment - but this would be what an employer, such as Virgin Australia, describes as a "casual" contact.

However, a passenger who sits in the same row, or two rows of seats immediately to the front and rear of that person, would potentially have more prolonged exposure and may be required to self-isolate, as was the case recently with a Defence officer from Sydney who travelled to Canberra by commercial aircraft from Sydney, then later tested positive to the virus.

What is the test for the virus?

The current basic test is an oral specimen swab(s) taken from the upper respiratory tract. A finger-print test is expected to be rolled out soon.

Patients with more exacerbated symptoms such as fever and breathlessness and/or a severe cough may require to be isolated and tested further.

Under the federal government's latest arrangements, people who are vulnerable (such as people who are immuno-suppressed or elderly) or those with suspected COVID-19 cases can get advice over the phone via the national hotline on 1800 020 080.

Can you go to the doctor while in self-isolation? Can you have medication delivered?

If you are self-isolating and require medical attention, you must call the Communicable Disease Control Information line on (02) 5124 9213 during business hours or (02) 9962 4155 after hours.

This is so that appropriate and safe travel arrangements can be made for your arrival at the health service.

If you urgently require prescription medication to be delivered to your home while in self-isolation, in the first instance seek advice from the prescribing practitioner.

If you know you will run out of your medication while self-isolated, you should arrange ahead of time for your medication to be delivered to your home by a family member, friend or your pharmacy.

Tell them you are quarantining yourself at home and to notify you when they arrive at your home but to leave the medications at your front door.

Can you get groceries delivered if you're in self-isolation? What about Uber Eats?

If the people you live with are unable to get groceries or if you live alone, friends or family living outside of your household can deliver groceries to your home. They should leave the groceries at your door.

Some grocery stores offer home delivery for groceries ordered online, including the main supermarket chains.

If your groceries must be signed for, ideally this should be done by someone who is not in isolation. If this is not possible, you should wear a mask and wash your hands before answering the door.

If you are in isolation, does everyone in your house have to isolate too?

It is important that those in self-isolation to avoid contact with other family members as much as possible to avoid potentially transmitting the virus. ACT Health says practising good hand and respiratory hygiene is the best defence against the spread of the virus.

This includes washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if your hands are not visibly dirty.

Do this before handling food and before eating, as well as after using the toilet. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with others.

Cough/sneeze into your elbow or directly into a tissue, throw the tissue in a bin, and wash your hands.

Surfaces which are touched regularly, such as door handles, kitchen and bathroom areas, remote controls and phones are cleaned frequently using detergent and water or a detergent-based cleaner.

Do I have to take sick leave or can I work from home?

This will depend on the nature of your employment and individual employment conditions, and is best discussed with your employer or HR department. Employees with outstanding sick leave may be required to use that leave first.

If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave.

These requests are subject to the normal leave application processes in the workplace.

Where can I self-isolate?

At home, or anywhere where you can quarantine yourself from other people so that they do not come into contact with droplets or sneezes, or where the potentially infected person may have touched surfaces like doorknobs or table surfaces.

Being quarantined at home means that you need to stay at home for the full 14-day period. You cannot go to work, school, or public areas (such as shops or cafés/restaurants) and should not use public transport, ride share or taxis. You also need to tell people not to visit you while you are quarantined.

If you are a visitor to Canberra, you may be required to remain quarantined in a hotel or other suitable accommodation, as you will not be allowed to travel on public transport (including buses, trains, or domestic airlines) for 14 days.

What do I do if I'm in a sharehouse?

If you are unwell with symptoms, and other people are living or staying with you, you need to consider their health and avoid contact with them. You should wear a surgical mask to minimise risk to others and move quickly through any common areas.

Assess your logical options to protect your health and the health of others, which will depend on the type of accommodation, and the size and isolation of shared spaces (such as bathrooms) within that accommodation.

Contact with shared surfaces should be avoided, and those that are shared should be cleaned frequently using detergent and water or a detergent-based cleaner.

If there is alternative accommodation where you can relocate for a short time and self-isolate in comfort and security without potentially transmitting the virus to others, and while observing the required high levels of personal hygiene, then consider this option carefully.

Practising good hand and respiratory hygiene is the best defence against the spread of the virus.

This story The coronavirus explained: Everything you need to know first appeared on The Canberra Times.