24 Mar 2020

Covid-19 symptoms: What they are and how they make you feel

3:46 pm on 24 March 2020

If you're in isolation or feeling unwell and worried, we've put together details of the Covid-19 coronavirus symptoms in one place so you know what to look out for.

(This story has been updated on 8 May, 2020).

Close up portrait elderly 60s woman looking unhealthy use tissue blowing runny nose suffers from grippe warms herself with plaid, female feels upset crying having personal or health problems concept

Photo: 123rf

The government's dedicated Covid-19 website details the symptoms as follows:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • shortness of breath
  • sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose 
  • temporary loss of smell 

The symptoms are like the flu and a cold, and so don't necessarily mean you have been infected with the virus.

It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show, and it's common for infected people to develop signs about five to six days from when they are exposed.

A person can pass on the virus to others before they know they have Covid-19 - from up to two days before symptoms develop.

Most people with Covid-19 will experience only mild symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

You may be asked to get tested or asked to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of close contact with any confirmed or probable case. This document outlines information on how cases get defined (i.e. suspected, probable or confirmed) and who gets tested.

The WHO says while research notes that children and adults are just as likely to get infected as any other group, for children and young adults it's less likely to be severe.

However, severe cases can still happen in these age groups.

Earlier in the disease outbreak, science and environment writer Dave Hansford explained the virus for RNZ: "Coronaviruses generally cause fever, coughing and shortness of breath, and can progress in elderly and immune-compromised people into pneumonia, respiratory failure and occasionally, kidney failure.

"RNA viruses only have a single strand of genetic material (unlike us - we have two), which means they can mutate and recombine rapidly, regularly producing new strains that our immune systems don't remember or recognise. This is why we keep getting colds each year."

How Covid-19 spreads

Covid-19 is mainly spread through droplets that can be expelled by an infected person when they cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground. 

People can catch the virus if they breathe in these droplets from an infected person, or if they touch a contaminated surface where the droplets have fallen and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

This is why it is important to stay at least a metre or two away from others and to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand rub.

The virus is most likely to be spread between people within the first three days of symptoms appearing, when there is the most shedding of the virus in the nose and throat. 

Can you infect someone without having symptoms?

While it's mostly spread because of contact with infected people who do have symptoms, it's also possible for it to be passed on to another person before symptoms show. This is classified as 'pre-symptomatic transmission', although less common, according to the Ministry of Health.

The WHO says it is possible to catch Covid-19 from someone who has just a mild cough and does not feel ill.

Some infected people may never have any symptoms, but the Ministry of Health's website says there are yet to be any confirmed instances of such a person who has also spread the virus.

According to the WHO, it is not yet known how often this happens, but it says it is assessing ongoing research on the topic.

(Information in this story has been collated from the World Health Organisation's website and the Ministry of Health).

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus: