Common human coronaviruses usually only cause mild to moderate respiratory tract illnesses, such as the common cold. On rare occasions, new coronaviruses emerge. These may cause outbreaks and serious illness.
- Coronaviruses are a large and diverse family of viruses that include viruses known to cause illness in animals. Sometimes these infections can be passed to humans.
- Most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime. Young children are most likely to get infected.
- Coronavirus usually causes a mild disease, such as the common cold, that does not require specific treatment.
- In rare cases, coronaviruses can cause serious outbreaks. Coronaviruses have been responsible for outbreaks such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and the current novel coronavirus pandemic (originally called 2019-nCoV and now officially called COVID-19).
- There are currently no vaccines available to protect you against human coronavirus infection.
- Good personal hygiene and avoiding people with respiratory illness can reduce your chances of getting coronavirus.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a type of virus that can affect humans and animals. It's named coronavirus because the virus has crown-like spikes on its surface ('corona' meaning crown).
There a variety of different types of coronavirus and most people will get infected with one or more of the common human coronaviruses in their lifetime. It usually only causes a mild disease such as the common cold. Young children are most likely to get infected.
Coronavirus infection is much more common in animals than in humans. Sometimes, the coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and infect humans becoming a new human coronavirus.
What are the symptoms of human coronavirus infection?
Most common types of human coronavirus usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory-tract illnesses, like the common cold. These illnesses usually only last for a short amount of time. Symptoms may include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- a general feeling of being unwell.
Other types of coronavirus can cause more severe illness. Infants, older people and people with medical conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease or weakened immune systems are most at risk of getting more severe problems such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
Coronaviruses have been responsible for outbreaks such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
- Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is responsible for the 2019/2020 outbreak, which started in the city of Wuhan in China. The virus has caused a range of symptoms from mild ones similar to a cold to more severe pneumonia-like symptoms. Read more about the Covid-19 outbreak.
- MERS symptoms usually include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which often worsens to pneumonia. About 3 or 4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died. MERS cases continue to occur, primarily in the Arabian Peninsula. Read more about MERS.
- SARS symptoms often included fever, chills and body aches, which usually progressed to pneumonia. No human cases of SARS have been reported anywhere in the world since 2004. Read more about SARS.
How is human coronavirus infection spread?
Human coronaviruses are most commonly spread from an infected person to others through:
- the air by coughing and sneezing
- close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
In New Zealand, people usually get infected with common human coronaviruses in autumn and winter. However, you can get infected at any time of the year.
Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus. This is often how outbreaks occur.
How is human coronavirus infection treated?
There are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human coronaviruses. Most people with common human coronavirus illness will recover on their own.
If you are mildly sick, drink plenty of liquids and stay home and rest.
If you are concerned about your symptoms, call your healthcare provider or ring the Healthline team (for free) on 0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453 for international SIMS.
The latest advice will also be posted on the New Zealand Government's COVID-19 website.
How can I prevent the spread of human coronavirus?
If you have cold-like symptoms, you can help protect others by doing the following:
- stay home while you are sick
- avoid close contact with others
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then dispose of the tissue in the rubbish bin straight away
- wash your hands and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces after you have coughed or sneezed.
Learn more about stopping the spread of COVID-19.
How can I protect myself from human coronavirus?
There are currently no vaccines available to protect you against human coronavirus infection. You may be able to reduce your risk of infection by doing the following:
- wash your hands regularly with soap and water and dry well
- avoid touching your face with unclean hands
- avoid close contact, including not sharing personal items such as utensils and towels, with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Learn more about protecting yourself against COVID-19.
- Coronavirus World Health Organization, Switzerland, 2020
- About human coronaviruses Centres for Disease Control, US, 2019
||Dr Li-Wern Yim is a travel doctor with a background in general practice. She studied medicine at the University of Otago, and has a postgraduate diploma in travel medicine (Otago). She also studied tropical medicine in Uganda and Tanzania, and holds a diploma from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. She currently works in clinical travel medicine in Auckland.
Covid19 Covid 19
Aotearoa New Zealand's alert levels currently depend on where you are in the country. Auckland is at Alert Level 3. The rest of the country is at Alert Level 2.
The Auckland region is at Alert Level 3 until 11.59 pm on Wednesday 26 August. Find out about Alert Level 3 Auckland restrictions.
The rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2 until 11.59 pm on Wednesday 26 August. Find out about Alert Level 2 restrictions.
Controls at the borders remain for those entering New Zealand, including health screening and testing for all arrivals, and 14-day managed isolation or quarantine.
As we unite around the country to eliminate COVID-19, it's still important at all levels to follow basic hygiene measures, including washing your hands, coughing or sneezing into your elbow and maintaining physical distancing. Follow advice about wearing face coverings.
The Government is encouraging everyone to use the COVID Tracer app to help you keep track of where you've been. You can download it here. Businesses must display the NZ COVID Tracer QR code poster.
Where to go for COVID-19 advice
The situation with the COVID-19 outbreak can change quickly. The NZ Government has created a Unite against COVID-19 website for all your COVID-19 questions, including those that are not health related. They have translated resources available here. You can also follow Unite against COVID-19 on Facebook and get regular email updates by subscribing here.
The Ministry of Health also has up to date information on its website, Facebook page and Twitter channel.
The Government has also launched a WhatsApp channel Govt.NZl which is free to use on any mobile device and has information and news for the public, businesses, healthcare providers, not-for-profit organisations and local government. A Wellington region COVID-19 helpline is available from 7am–9pm on 0800 141 967.
Do I need to get tested (swabbed) for COVID-19?
Symptoms consistent with COVID-19 include new or worsening cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, head cold or loss of smell, with or without fever. However, some people may only have these symptoms: fever, diarrhoea (runny poos), headache, myalgia (muscle aches and pains), nausea/vomiting or confusion/irritability.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should get a test. If you are unsure, contact your doctor or the Healthline dedicated COVID-19 number 0800 358 5453. Don't go to a medical clinic without phoning first – you may infect other people.
If you are asked to have a COVID-19 test, please do so.
Even if you don't have symptoms, please also get a test if you have:
- had contact with a confirmed or probable case
- had international travel
- had direct contact with a person who has travelled overseas (eg, Customs and Immigration staff, staff at quarantine/isolation facilities)
- worked on an international aircraft or shipping vessel
- cleaned at an international airport or maritime port in areas/conveniences visited by international arrivals, or
- any other criteria requested by the local Medical Officer of Health.
Read more about getting tested for COVID-19.
Phone the main Healthline number 0800 611 116 if you have health concerns not related to COVID-19. If it is an emergency, phone 111 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
Need an interpreter or information in another language?
- Feeling unwell? Call Healthline 0800 358 5453
- Immediately say your language you need, for example, ‘Korean’ and wait (it could take up to 5–10 minutes). Do not hang up!
- The Healthline staff have been briefed not to carry on talking in English to you if you have said the language you need first. You will be connected to an interpreter.
- You can tell the interpreter your health concerns as part of a three-way conversation with the Healthline staff.
See also the Ministry of Health's easy to read resources translated by the Red Cross into other languages and the Northern Region DHBs and Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) website with health-related information and advice on COVID-19 in more 45 languages. Find your language and click to see translated resources and/or helpful regional websites here.
Where can I get tested for COVID-19?
The Government has set up a number of community testing centres to provide safe places to get tested (swabbed) for COVID-19. Covid-19 tests are free. Read more about community testing centres. You can also contact your doctor as many also offer testing.
Resources for Māori
COVID-19 has the potential to have a serious impact on Māori, so Māori need access to tailored and relevant information, resources and practical guidance and advice on how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
- For information and resources specifically for Māori see uruta.maori.nz.
- Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā has developed COVID-19 resources for Māori.
- Paerangi is an online information and referral centre designed specifically for whānau hauā (whanau with impairments), nga marae and kaumātua.
- There is also a support/information phone line: 0800 100 132.
Resources for Pasifika communities
Prepare Pacific is a website that has been set up to help get information out to Pasifika communities to help in the battle against Coronavirus.
There is also a weekly social media, radio and TV broadcast in 9 Pacific languages. Videos are released each week on Wednesday on social media, followed by radio bulletins on Thursday and then a special TV3 (Three) broadcast on Fridays at 4pm (and replayed every Monday at 11pm). You can view the videos on the Ministry for Pacific People's Facebook page, YouTube channel and the government’s COVID-19 website.
Information for people with disabilities and their family/whānau
Advice on what you can do stay safe and healthy. You need to do everything you can to prevent yourself from coming into contact with COVID-19. This means being careful, clean and making a plan. Don’t be scared, be prepared. Read more information for disabled people and their family and whānau.
Paerangi is an online information and referral centre designed specifically for whānau hauā (whānau with impairments).
Looking after your mental wellbeing
If you or someone you know is struggling, there is help and support available. You don't have to go it alone. See also: taking care of your mental wellbeing during the lockdown and helping kids cope with anxiety.
Support for people on their own or caring for a vulnerable person
Register with wecare.kiwi to get advice and check-ins from trained and Police-vetted volunteers across New Zealand. Find out more at wecare.kiwi.
Information for people with diabetes
Based on overseas experience, it appears that people with diabetes who contract COVID-19 are at increased risk of serious complications of the infection, including respiratory failure and death. This means you need to take particular care of yourself during this time. Read more about diabetes and COVID-19.
Other COVID-19 concerns
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It’s caused by a type of coronavirus.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
A novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. The novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 was first encountered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread to many other countries around the globe and is now recognised as a pandemic.
It is called COVID-19 because it was first identified in 2019. There is no COVID-1 to COVID-18.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a range of other respiratory illnesses that are much more common, such as the flu. Symptoms include:
- a cough
- a high temperature (at least 38˚C)
- shortness of breath
- a sore throat
- sneezing and runny nose
- temporary loss of smell.
These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have COVID-19. Difficulty breathing is a sign of possible pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.
Symptoms can take up to 14 days to show after a person has been infected. The virus can be passed onto others before they know they have it – from up to two days before symptoms develop.
For most people, COVID-19 infection will cause mild to moderate illness. However, it can make some people very ill. Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease or diabetes) are at highest risk of severe disease.
How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19, like the flu, is spread by droplets. This means that when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance. These droplets are too large to stay in the air for long, so they quickly settle on surrounding surfaces.
You may get infected by the virus if you touch those surfaces or objects and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes.
That’s why it’s important to use good hand hygiene, practice physical distancing if you don’t know someone and stay home if you’re unwell. This includes regularly washing and drying your hands and coughing or sneezing into a disposable tissue or into your elbow.
What can I do to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19?
There are currently no vaccines available to protect you against COVID-19.
As with other respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection:
- regularly wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds with water and soap) and dry thoroughly
- cough or sneeze into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues
- put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately
- try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
- avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms
- don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
Read more about public health measures to stop the spread including hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette, not touching your face and physical distancing (sometimes known as 'social distancing').
Unite against COVID-19 NZ Government, 2020
COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) Ministry of Health, NZ
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak World Health Organization
Easy to read information about COVID-19 Ministry of Health, NZ
Translated information about COVID-19 NZ Government, 2020
Covid19 Covid 19