COVID-19 - What You Need To Know

COVID-19 - What You Need To Know

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It can affect your lungs, airways and other organs. If your child or you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms, call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice. 

Come on whānau - stay COVID-Fit (episode 01)

Even though immunisation against COVID-19 has begun here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we still need to be careful to limit the possible spread of COVID-19. This is a 'Unite Against COVID-19' video.


Key points to remember about COVID-19

  • COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19 can affect your lungs, airways and other organs
  • coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which cause illnesses like the common cold
  • if you or your child are sick, stay at home - away from daycare, school, work and other indoor areas like shopping malls

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It can affect your lungs, airways and other organs.

Coronaviruses are from a large family of viruses that cause illnesses like the common cold.

SARS-CoV-2 was first recognised in China and likely started in animals. It's still unclear how the virus came to infect humans. The disease spread to other countries, with the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

There have been genetic mutations (changes) to the virus over time as it adapts to humans. Some of these mutations, such as the Delta variant, can spread more easily than the original virus and cause more severe disease.

Variants of COVID-19

It's a natural process for viruses to change or mutate, which may produce variants. Variants are developing around the world. This tends to happen in places where the virus is out of control.

Variants of COVID-19 may affect how fast the virus spreads, or how sick people get from the virus.

Delta and Omicron are the most recent variants. The Omicron variant has spread worldwide rapidly. 

See all the latest information about COVID-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Check the NZ Government's Unite against COVID-19 website

See the Unite against COVID-19 Facebook page

See the Ministry of Health's website

How easy is it to catch and spread COVID-19?

COVID-19 is usually spread from person to person. When an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs, sneezes or sings, they may spread particles containing the virus.

These particles range in size. Larger and heavier particles - droplets - quickly fall to the ground or other surfaces within seconds or minutes. Smaller particles - aerosols - can remain airborne for minutes to hours. Spread of the virus by aerosols appears to be more important than previously thought.

The risk of catching COVID-19 is higher:

  • in enclosed spaces that do not have good airflow
  • in crowded places with many people nearby
  • in close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations, singing, or shouting

The risk is lower outside, with fewer people, and if people are widely spread.

How can I reduce the risk of getting COVID-19?

You can take some simple steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses.

Find out how to protect yourself and others against COVID-19

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

If children do catch COVID-19, they mostly have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. 

COVID-19 symptoms can include one or more of the following:

  • sneezing and runny nose
  • a new or worsening cough
  • sore throat
  • a fever of at least 38 degrees Celsius
  • shortness of breath
  • temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste
  • diarrhoea
  • headache
  • muscle pain or body aches
  • nausea and vomiting

See COVID-19 symptoms charts in 7 languages

These symptoms do not necessarily mean your child or you have COVID-19. The symptoms are like other illnesses that are much more common, such as colds and flu.

Shortness of breath is a sign of possible pneumonia - your child needs to see a doctor immediately.

See information about pneumonia

Check the signs that show your child is struggling to breathe

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

Symptoms tend to start after 5 days but can take up to 14 days to show after a person has been infected. Your child or you can pass the virus on to others before you know you have it - from up to 2 days before symptoms develop.

Who can I call for COVID-19 health advice and information?

For COVID-19 health advice in New Zealand, call 0800 358 5453. Make sure to only call for health-related information on COVID-19.

For COVID-19 health advice, call 0800 358 5453.

It is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

People calling the free line will be able to talk with a member of the National Telehealth Service and interpreters will be available.

Healthline's main number (0800 611 116) is still the one to call for non-COVID-19 health concerns.

What if my child has cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms now?

If your baby or child has any cold or flu-like symptoms, keep them home from daycare or school. Phone Healthline on 0800 611 116 (for general health advice) or 0800 358 5453 (for COVID-19 advice), or your doctor, as soon as possible. Make sure to phone your doctor before visiting.

Please keep your baby or child away from daycare or school until they no longer have symptoms. See the NZ Government's 'Unite against COVID-19' website for information about staying home if you're sick.

Follow the rules for traffic light settings in NZ  

From 3 December 2021, New Zealand moves to the traffic lights system. The traffic lights (COVID-19 Protection Framework) protect Aotearoa New Zealand from COVID-19, while allowing vaccinated people more freedoms. Check the information about New Zealand's traffic light settings at the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

This page last reviewed 02 December 2021.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it