Coronavirus (COVID-19) declared global health pandemic

Published: 3 April 2020

The World Health Organisation has formally declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic. Public health officials and experts are encouraging all individuals, businesses and the community at large to do their part to respond to the emerging public health threat posed by the virus.

Individuals should familiarise themselves with recommendations of common-sense preventative measures, seek immediate medical advice should they notice symptoms and isolate themselves should they suspect or be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Employers are encouraged to take informed and measured action to mitigate risks and to prepare their response for a confirmed case within their workplaces or broader communities. Businesses should review and communicate internal policies relating to infection control, seek out credible information from public health authorities, provide regular updates to workers about the situation and related organisational policies, and begin contingency planning to manage staff absences or other disruptions to the business environment.


The outbreaks of COVID-19 is a public health concern and should be taken seriously. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including instances with no reported symptoms), to severe, including illness resulting in death.

For the majority of people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities within Australia. Older people and people with severe underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, seem to be at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 illness Information about the virus and the public health response is likely to evolve and change rapidly for some time. All members of the community are encouraged to stay abreast of developments and to seek information from credible sources.


The outbreak of a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus was first detected in China and has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally, including Australia. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency.


The virus itself has been named "SARS-CoV-2", and the disease it causes is called "coronavirus disease 2019" (abbreviated "COVID-19").


A respiratory illness, symptoms range from a mild cough to pneumonia. Some people recover easily; others may get very sick very quickly. There is evidence that it spreads from person to person; however, good hygiene can prevent infection.


How it spreads?

How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread sustains: that is, spreading continually without stopping. 
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in affected geographic areas.
There is evidence that the virus spreads from person-to-person, most likely through:
  • Close contact with an infectious person
  • Contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • Touching objects or surfaces (doorknobs, tables, etc.) that have a cough or sneeze droplets
  • Touching your mouth or face

Current advice indicates that people are most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), although some spread might be possible before people show symptoms. There have been reports of this occurring with COVID-19, but is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads.


The main symptoms associated with COVID-19 appear for around two to fourteen days after exposure and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms from reported cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild, including little or no symptoms, to severe illness, including death in some cases.


Everyone should practise good hygiene to protect against infections, including:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water
  • Using tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoiding close contact with others, such as touching
Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public. Read more about protective measures against coronavirus on the WHO website.


If you become unwell and think you may have symptoms of coronavirus, seek medical attention. Call ahead of time to book an appointment. Tell your doctor about your symptoms, travel history and any recent close contact with someone who has coronavirus. If you must leave home to see your doctor, wear a surgical mask to protect others.


There is no treatment for coronavirus, but medical care can treat most of the symptoms. Antibiotics do not work on viruses. If diagnosed with coronavirus, isolate yourself in your home.
Do not go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university. If possible, ask other people to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door.
Only people who usually live with you should be in your home. Do not let in visitors. You do not need to wear a mask in your home. If you need to leave home to seek medical attention, wear a surgical mask to protect others. To find out more, read our home isolation information sheet.


AMCA members are strongly encouraged to plan for instances of COVID-19 in their workplaces and broader communities. Employers should consider their obligations under both workplace health and safety laws and employment law.

Steps that businesses can and should be taking include:

  • Closely monitoring official Government sources for current information and advice
  • Reviewing and promoting your organisation’s policies and measures for infection control
  • Ensuring workers are aware of the isolation and quarantine periods in accordance with guidance from the Australian Government Department of Health.
  • Communicating clearly to employees when they should not attend work
  • Providing clear advice to workers about actions they should take if they become unwell or think they may have the symptoms of coronavirus
  • Eliminating or minimising international work travel, in line with the travel advice on the Australian Government
  • Providing regular updates to workers about the situation and any changes to organisational policies or procedures
  • Contingency planning to manage staff absences
  • Providing workers with information and links to relevant services should they require support.

If staff are affected by a confirmed case of COVID-19, the Australian Government is encouraging employees and employers to work together to find appropriate solutions that suit the needs of individual workplaces and staff.

The Fair Work Act does not have specific rules for these kinds of situations, so employees and employers need to come to their own arrangement. This may include taking different forms of leave, working from home, or taking extra precautions in the workplace.

Further Information

For more information about how to respond to the outbreak of coronavirus, including preventative measures, latest information and obligations relating to workplace health and safety and employment law,

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources
A collection of resources for the general public, health professionals and industry about coronavirus (COVID-19), including translated resources.

Coronavirus Health Alert
Released by the Australian Government Department of Health, the daily health alert provides the latest medical advice and official reports relating to illness outbreak caused by COVID-19.

Latest statements from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC)
Read the latest statements from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) about coronavirus (COVID-19). The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is the key decision-making committee for health emergencies.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) information for employers
Information released specifically for employers by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

SafeWork Advice for Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking
Provided by SafeWork Australia, this page offers advice for Australian Businesses based on their obligations under Australian model Workplace Health & Safety Laws.

Coronavirus and Australian workplace laws
Provided by FairWork, this page includes information about workplace entitlements and obligations if a business is affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.

ASHRAE COVID-19 Preparedness Resources
ASHRAE has developed proactive guidance to help address coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) concerns and the operation and maintenance of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems.

Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers (USA)
Prepared by the US Government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, it provides information that may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings.