Psychiatrist, Writer, Commentator

COVID-19 Survival Guide – Key things to know in case you get sick

Thursday, 26th March 2020

This is a quick guide to the essential health info you need for preventing, preparing for, and having COVID-19. There are many resources online, especially at the Australian Health Department Coronavirus info page. Below is a quick & basic summary. Prepare yourself

  • Stay fit – eat, sleep, exercise
  • Give up or cut back on smoking now (get nicotine replacement from the pharmacy)
  • Prepare mentally – find ways to relax like meditation apps & slow breathing
  • GET the flu shot (available April).

Prepare your house

  • Have enough food and drink for about a week
  • Buy basic medical supplies – paracetamol (about 100 tablets per person will be plenty), a thermometer, and some face masks if available
  • Have enough cleaning supplies – soap and water, detergents, household disinfectant
  • BUY an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with over 60 percent alcohol.

Prevent infection – reduce your risk

  • WASH hands often with soap and running water, for at least 20 seconds. DRY with paper towels or hand dryer
  • TRY not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth
  • COVER your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow
  • You DON’T wear a face mask if you are well.

What to do if you get sick

  • Isolate yourself, and if you need to be in the company of other people then wear a face mask.
  • Cover your face when you cough, use tissues, dispose of the tissues.
  • Clean your hands often to avoid infecting others from touching shared surfaces.
  • Call a doctor – don’t go directly. They will instruct you on how to get tested and what you can do to relieve symptoms.
  • Common symptoms:  fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose.
    • Less common: shortness of breath, fatigue, aches & pains, headache.
    • Rare symptom: Diarrhoea
  • Supportive care at home – just like the flu or a cold, use paracetamol for pain and fever and keep drinking enough fluids. Otherwise, rest.
  • The usual course of illness: time from getting infected to showing symptoms (called incubation time) is about 5 days (range 2 to 14 days), duration of illness is about 2 weeks for mild cases and about 3 to 6 weeks for more severe cases.
  • Likely severity: Mild symptoms (no or mild pneumonia) 80 – 90% people; severe disease requiring hospital 10 - 20% of people (rough estimates)

Manage your anxiety The news has been frightening, and you may feel anxious and panicky. Here are some things to remember:

  • The news has not been completely reliable. Whilst government sources are stressing the importance of trying to reduce the spread of the virus, they have also been trying to stress that in most people the illness is NOT severe and NOT life-threatening. Many people have it without symptoms. Of those who get sick at least 80% do NOT need hospital care.
  • Cut back on news & social media; get your information from reliable government websites like
  • Anxiety passes. It is temporary.
  • Try things to relax: download a meditation app like Smiling Mind or google slow breathing techniques and watch them on YouTube. Here is an example of slow breathing on YouTube
  • Remember the usual supports:

When should you go to a hospital?

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to wake up
  • Bluish lips or face

Things to take to the hospital Super useful:

  • Medicare card &/or private insurance, DVA card
  • Your GPs details
  • Medications – bring a list or just bring the packets
  • Any health aids - hearing aids, dentures etc
  • Pyjamas, warm clothes, underwear, non-slip footwear
  • Toiletries - including toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, etc
  • Phone & charger


  • Sleeping mask and ear plugs
  • Headphones, computer, charger
  • Money – not too much, for snacks and newspapers

When can you break isolation? Follow medical advice, as the DHHS guidelines are updated frequently but as a rough guide this is from the latest version (sourced 25/3/2020):

  • The patient has been afebrile for the previous 72 hours, and
    • At least ten days have elapsed after the onset of the acute illness, and
    • There has been a noted improvement in symptoms, and
    • A risk assessment has been conducted by the department and deemed no further criteria are needed.
    • Testing is no longer required to meet clearance criteria

Are you immune to COVID-19 after you've been infected once? There is not enough information about the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 virus yet to know for sure, but experts think that you probably are immune, but that the immunity might not last forever. Here is a good summary of the information so far in New Scientist. What should you do if you live with other people who are unwell or isolated?

  • Maintain good isolation (social distancing) and wear a mask when that is not possible
  • Clean all surfaces in your isolation area daily
  • Get a caregiver to clean all surfaces in other areas daily
  • Use soap and water or another detergent if the area is dirty. Then a household disinfectant afterward.
  • Do not share household items

What to do if your kids have symptoms

  • Kids appear less likely to get sick
  • Kids appear less likely to transmit the virus
  • Seek medical advice for testing and symptoms relief
  • Treat them as you would if they had a cold or the flu
  • Pay close attention to your cleaning, hand washing, and mask use to avoid becoming infected yourself.
  • Reassure them and communicate clearly that you expect them to get better quickly (they will have been hearing the exaggerated doom and gloom on the news too)

Frequently Asked Questions What's the difference between COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2? COVID-19 is short for Coronavirus Disease 2019 meaning it is the illness (disease) caused by the virus. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes the disease, and it is short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. The first, SARS-CoV caused an epidemic in 2002 & 2003 in China, Canada, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, and Hanoi in Viet Nam. It didn't spread enough to be considered a pandemic.