Be prepared to stay well this winter

Canberra’s colder months are likely to bring an increase of respiratory illnesses in our community, including COVID-19 (COVID), influenza (flu) and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and many other respiratory viruses.

The most common symptoms of respiratory viruses are:

  • a cough, sore throat, or runny nose
  • body aches (muscle or joint pain)
  • feeling tired and fatigued
  • fever and chills
  • loss of appetite.

These illnesses can be serious, but there are things you can do to help prevent becoming severely unwell.

Stay up to date with your vaccinations

Vaccination remains the best protection from severe disease and hospitalisation if you get COVID or the flu.

Vaccination helps protect the people in our community at higher risk of severe disease   from COVID or flu, including older people and those with underlying medical conditions. Children under 5 years old are also at higher risk of severe disease from flu, and influenza vaccination is important.

It is safe to get influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

Influenza (flu) vaccines are updated every year to protect against new influenza strains. Everyone aged six months and older is recommended to get a flu vaccination every year, particularly those at higher risk of severe illness.

COVID-19 vaccines have been updated to protect against new COVID-19 variants.

A GP or treating health professional can provide COVID-19 booster advice based on your individual situation, including if you should get a booster and when.

Where to get the flu vaccine

Get your flu vaccine at:

  • your GP (everyone)
  • Early Childhood Immunisation Clinics at ACT Government Community Health Centres (children aged six months to under five years can receive funded vaccine)
  • pharmacies that provide flu vaccination services (people aged 5 years and older; funded vaccine for 65+)
  • Walk-in Centres (people 65 years of age and older who are already attending a Walk-in Centre can receive funded vaccine)
  • some workplaces may also provide an influenza vaccine for employees.

Where to get COVID vaccinations

  • To receive the best protection against serious illness from COVID-19, you should get all the recommended doses for your age or individual health needs. Booster doses are free for everyone.
  • If you’re an adult and it’s been 6 months or more since your last COVID-19 vaccination or infection, you can now get a booster.  This is particularly recommended for people at higher risk of severe illness. For more detailed information on booster dose recommendations, visit the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website
  • You can make a booking for a COVID vaccination at:
    • Your GP
    • A pharmacy
  • Use the Vaccine Clinic Finder to locate a clinic near you

Speak to your healthcare team before you become unwell

If you’re at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness or influenza illness, speak to your healthcare team before you become unwell. This includes your GP, pharmacist and any home care providers.

Ask your GP

  • What kind of testing may be useful for you.
  • If you need a PCR pathology request form, and how you can get one.
  • If you are recommended to take COVID or flu treatments, and how to access them early in your illness.

COVID and flu  antivira l treatments need to be started as soon as possible after your symptoms start for the best results.

If you don’t have a regular GP or can’t get an appointment with them, use Find a Health Service to locate a GP clinic near you. This tool allows you to use search preferences to find a GP that’s right for you.

Keep a written copy of your important medical details, such as your medical conditions, the medications you are taking and recent blood test results showing how well your kidneys are working. This will help your doctor to quickly assess you any treatments.

Chat to your pharmacist

  • Chat to your pharmacist about how you can get medications when you are unwell. Before you become unwell, know your pharmacy’s preferred way for you to get a supply of your regular, over the counter and antiviral medications (if required). This may be home delivery, contactless pick up or another option.
  • Talk to any home care providersabout what will happen if you are unwell. Ask them who to inform if you are unwell and how you will continue to receive home care services.

Talk to any home care providers

  • Talk to any home care providers about what will happen if you are unwell. Ask them who to inform if you are unwell and how you will continue to receive home care services. 

Get the latest health advice

Make sure you get the latest information from reliable sources, including the ACT Health, ACT COVID-19 and Healthdirect websites.

Healthdirect’s advice line is also a handy service – call 1800 022 222. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s always someone you can speak to.

Check if your workplace or education institution have specific policies in place should you become unwell, particularly for COVID illness. Speak to your manager about your workplace requirements should you become unwell.

Have a winter kit ready at home

A winter kit should contain key items you may need if you become unwell. You can get most things you need from a supermarket or a pharmacy, such as:

  • COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) (see Where to get a RAT in the ACT)
  • face masks, disposable gloves and cleaning products (including disinfectants and soap)
  • a small supply of your regular medications
  • over the counter medicines like paracetamol and throat lozenges
  • oral rehydration solutions (such as Gastrolyte or Hydralyte) or ice blocks
  • the name and phone number or website of your doctor or other medical help
  • the name and phone number of someone who can safely bring you supplies you need
  • activities to do, like books to read or movies to watch.

Stay COVID Smart

Staying COVID Smart is a part of being prepared.

COVID Smart behaviours, like wearing a mask and washing and sanitising your hands regularly, also help to protect you from other infectious diseases such as the flu and RSV. They are behaviours that are best for you, your family and your workplace.

Maintain your Mental health and wellbeing

Winter can affect your wellbeing. In winter you’re likely to stay indoors more, exercise less, participate in less social activities and change your diet.

There are things you can do to boost your mood and mental health if you feel down.

If you’re experiencing any signs of mental health issues, particularly if they  don’t go away and are affecting your everyday life, you can seek help and support by talking to a  health professional.

For more information please visit Head to Health .

Know what to do if you become unwell with a respiratory illness

You can’t tell if you have flu, COVID or another respiratory illness from your symptoms. 

If you have symptoms stay at home and test for COVID-19. 

Most Canberrans, including children supervised by an adult, can use a RAT to test for COVID-19.You can find out more about COVID testing on the ACT’s COVID-19 website

Some home self-tests that can detect the presence of COVID-19 and influenza are available from retailers, such as some pharmacies. These tests are like other COVID-19 RATS but can also indicate that someone has influenza A or B. 

If you’re at higher risk of severe illness follow your management plan, if you have one, contact your GP for a telehealth assessment early in your illness.


If you test positive for COVID-19 using a RAT, follow the health advice for people who test positive for COVID-19. We strongly encourage you to register your positive result using the online form.

If you test positive for influenza using a home self-test, there is no requirement to report the result to ACT Health. If you test positive for influenza on a PCR test, this result will be reported to ACT Health as part of usual notifiable condition processes.

Even if you test negative for COVID and influenza, you should still stay at home and take steps to protect those around you. You should remain at home until your symptoms are gone and you’re feeling better. 

Get health assistance

Seek health or medical support if you need it:

  • contact your GP or regular medical practitioner
  • drop into a Walk-in Centre where you can receive face-to-face assessment for COVID and non-COVID related medical concerns
  • call HealthDirect for advice on 1800 022 222, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • use Find a health service to find an after-hours GP clinic open near you
  • call Canberra Afterhours Locum Medical Service (CALMS) on 1300 422 567 from 6pm on weekdays and all day on weekends and public holidays
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and existing clients can contact Winnunga Nimmityjah Health Service. Walk-in Centres.

If you have severe symptoms, such as breathing difficulty or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately or go to your nearest Emergency Department.


Page last updated on: 13 Jun 2023