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, stay at home. Call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice. 


Key points 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 Omicron variant, can spread more easily than the original virus.

Variants of COVID-19

It's a natural process for viruses to change or mutate, which may produce variants. Variants of COVID-19 may affect how fast the virus spreads, or how sick people get from the virus.

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

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

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

COVID-19 is usually spread from person to person by aerosols. 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. 

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

That's why air ventilation is important. The risk is lower outside, with fewer people, and if people are widely spread.

Find out more about why wearing masks and ventilation helps

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

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 they may have no symptoms at all.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 are like those found with other illnesses such as colds and flu.

They can include:

  • cough
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • fever
  • headache
  • tiredness, feeling generally unwell
  • loss of taste or smell
  • sore, scratchy throat
  • shortness of breath

Symptoms of COVID-19 may also include:

  • diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, particularly in babies and young children
  • tummy pain
  • muscle aches
  • wheezing and croup-like illness
  • loss of taste or smell (not so common with Omicron)

See COVID-19 symptoms charts in 7 languages

These symptoms do not necessarily mean your child or you have COVID-19.

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

Check KidsHealth's information about pneumonia.

Check the signs that show your child is struggling to breathe.

How long does it take for symptoms to appear?

People who get COVID-19 symptoms are likely to get them within 3 days of infection. But it could take up to 8 days after infection.

Sometimes people may have COVID-19, but not have any symptoms.

Some people with COVID-19 can pass it on to others 1 or 2 days before showing symptoms.

Watch emergency doctors give advice about common and less common COVID-19 symptoms, how to care for your child with COVID-19 at home, and when to see a doctor.

Find out how to care for your child with COVID-19

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.

More KidsHealth content on COVID-19

See KidsHealth's section on COVID-19

See all KidsHealth's content on COVID-19 immunisation in children

This page last reviewed 02 May 2023.

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