Coronavirus (COVID-19): How eyes may play a role in its spread

woman wearing surgical mask

Our eyes might play an important role in the spread and prevention of the new coronavirus outbreak seen throughout the world.

For this reason, the Department of Health advises that you do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean. It is the mucous membranes (membranes that line the various cavities in the body) that are most susceptible to transmission of the virus.

To cut your personal risk and to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the Department of Health urges you to take these measures:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet.

  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Alcohol-free hand rubs have not been shown to be effective against viruses like COVID-19, and experts recommend against using them.

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

  • Put used tissues straight into the bin.

  • Practice social distancing. Everyone must stay 1.5 metres away from other people whenever possible.

Coronavirus in Australia

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and actor Tom Hanks are among those who have tested positive for and recovered from coronavirus, showing the virus does not discriminate.

Meanwhile, Australia is under strict new laws to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Non-essential shops have closed, meetings of more than two people have been banned, and people are required to stay at home except for trips for food or medicine.

Coronavirus in New Zealand

New Zealand is currently at Level 3 on its COVID-19 Alert Levels, meaning that the country has eased lockdown and family bubble restrictions.

Supermarkets, dairies, pharmacies and food banks remain open. When shopping, shoppers should practice 2-metre physical distancing and hygiene rules while in stores.

Under Level 3, restaurants and cafes have reopened for contactless take-away service. Real estate and construction can resume operations under new rules. Close-contact personal services, such as hairdressers and salons, remain closed.

Exercise in a park is now allowed again. Group exercise and sports are not permitted. Weddings and funerals can be attended now by a maximum of 10 people.

How did Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world get here? What is coronavirus? How is the new coronavirus related to your eyes? We cover all of that and more below. Let's get started.

What is coronavirus?

Reports of a new coronavirus (also referred to as COVID-19) first emerged in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China. 

Coronaviruses are a group of common viruses. Some affect only animals (such as bats, cats, camels and cattle), while others also affect people, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

COVID-19 can trigger ailments as minor as the common cold, or more consequential such as bronchitis, pneumonia and kidney failure. The most severe cases may be life-threatening.

How is the new coronavirus related to your eyes?

Health officials advise not touching your face, nose and eyes to cut your risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

According to the Department of Health, the virus can spread from person to person through:

  • Close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they had symptoms).

  • Contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.

  • Touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth, face, nose or eyes. 

How contagious is the new coronavirus?

Currently, it’s not known how “easily or sustainably” the virus spreads from person to person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many large gatherings and events have been cancelled or postponed as a public health measure to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Australian health officials have implemented these emergency measures as a best practice to contain the transmission of the virus.

To reduce the spread of coronavirus, in addition to being diligent about hygiene and practicing social distancing, the Department of Health recommends:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces such as benchtops, desks and doorknobs.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects such as mobile phones, keys, wallets and work passes.

  • Stay at home and only go out if it is absolutely essential.

  • Work from home, if you can.

  • Use tap and go instead of cash and traditional (non-contactless) credit cards. 

  • Travel at quiet times to avoid crowds.

  • Increase the amount of fresh air available by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning.


IF YOU'RE NOT FEELING WELL... Stay at home if you have either:

  • A high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back.

  • A new, continuous cough – this means you've started coughing repeatedly.

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. If you suspect you may have conjunctivitis, call an optometrist near you. It is suggested that patients do not present to medical or eye care facilities without a prior phone call to help to decrease the possible spread of the virus. A phone call allows the health facility to prepare for your visit and diagnose and treat you in a proper manner.


What are the symptoms of the new coronavirus?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a mild to severe respiratory illness accompanied by a fever, cough and breathing problems, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Other symptoms include runny nose, sore throat and headache.

Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Symptoms normally show up two to 14 days after someone has been exposed to the virus.

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Health care professionals diagnose the coronavirus through lab tests of respiratory or blood samples.

Your doctor will tell you if you should be tested, and he or she will arrange for the test.

According to Australia’s national coronavirus testing criteria, you likely will be tested if you have fever or respiratory symptoms and meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • You have returned from overseas in the past 14 days.

  • You have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

  • You travelled on a cruise ship (either passenger or crew) in the 14 days before developing symptoms.

  • You are a health care, aged care or residential care worker.

  • You have lived in an area where there is a higher risk of community transmission, as defined by the local public health unit.

Is there a vaccine or treatment for the new coronavirus?

There is no treatment for COVID-19. Medical care can treat most of the symptoms. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, the Department of Health notes.

Some reports suggest certain drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, can be used to treat COVID-19. No drugs have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for treating COVID-19.

Therefore, the best method for limiting the spread of this virus is to quickly isolate people who have it before they infect others, the Harvard Business Review says.

What to do if you suspect you have COVID-19

If you are sick and think you have symptoms of COVID-19, seek medical advice, the Department of Health advises. 

Find out below if there is a GP respiratory clinic in your state/territory and near your area and how to register for an appointment:

If you want to talk to someone about your symptoms, call the National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080).

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