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How COVID-19 is spread

The most common way you can get COVID-19 is by coming into close contact with someone who has the virus.

If you have COVID-19, you can spread the virus even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19.

Close contact

COVID-19 is mainly spread through the air in drops of liquid that come from the nose and mouth of an infected person.

The drops are usually too small to see. They scatter when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. When the drops reach the eyes, nose or mouth of another person, the infection spreads.

The more time you spend in close contact with an infected person, the greater the chance that drops containing the virus will reach your eyes, nose or mouth.

Staying 1 to 2 metres away from other people lowers the risk of drops reaching you. This is a way of reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Airborne spread

In crowded indoor places with poor ventilation, tiny drops containing the virus can sometimes spread over a longer distance.

It's much safer to meet people outdoors than indoors, even if you keep more than 2 metres apart indoors.

Avoid crowded or stuffy places as much as possible. Leave a location if it becomes crowded and stuffy.

Ventilation can dilute and remove the drops, this helps reduce the spread of COVID-19. When you meet people indoors, let some fresh air in by opening windows, doors or air vents as much as possible.

Infected surfaces

You can also get the virus from infected surfaces. For example, when someone who has the virus sneezes or coughs, droplets with the virus can fall onto surfaces around them.

If you touch that surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you could become infected too.

Getting COVID-19 from surfaces is probably much less common than getting it through the air from someone who has the virus. But keeping your hands clean can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 and other infections.

Cleaning surfaces with a detergent or household cleaner helps to remove the virus. Disinfectants can kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces. But disinfectants alone are not a substitute for cleaning.

How to protect yourself and others

Keeping up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines is the best way to protect yourself from serious illness from COVID-19.

Use your own judgement on how to protect yourself in public places.

You can prevent the spread of the virus by:

Pets and COVID-19

Pets such as cats and dogs can sometimes catch COVID-19. But there is no evidence that this is important in the spread of COVID-19 to humans.

Always clean your hands often when in contact with pets. This can prevent the spread of many diseases or viruses.

Page last reviewed: 8 February 2024