Testing, symptoms and course of the disease

Man blows his nose

Illustration: Johnér

The coronavirus spreads by droplet transmission, via direct contact and indirect contact. The virus is found in small droplets in the mouth and nose of an infected person and becomes airborne through sneezing or coughing, talking or singing. 

The typical route of transmission occurs when you inhale the airborne virus or when your hands come into contact with the virus and you then touch your face. The virus is transferred by direct contact for example when a healthy person shakes hands with an infected person. The virus is transferred by indirect contact for example when an infected person with virus on their hands touches a door handle that is later touched by a healthy person.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that anyone who shows symptoms of COVID-19 is tested as soon as possible. Anyone who has been in close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19 should also be tested, as well as those returning to Norway after having visited what is referred to as a red area/country during the last 10 days.

Healthcare professionals who have been travelling to what is referred to as a yellow aera/country outside of Norway and who work in patient care should provide one negative test for the coronavirus prior to returning to work. Children of kindergarten and primary school age with only mild symptoms of a respiratory tract infection can stay at home to assess the symptoms for a couple of days prior to testing.

Symptoms of coronavirus infection

Symptoms resemble those with colds and influenza.

  • Upper respiratory tract symptoms: fever, a sore throat and coughing.
  • Some people develop breathing difficulties and pneumonia.

People who become ill will initially typically experience a sore throat, symptoms of a cold and a mild cough, as well as a general feeling of being unwell and having muscle pain. Diarrhoea may occur but is not common. The loss of smell and taste can also be a symptom.

For many the symptoms can be mild, for children in particular. If in doubt, contact your doctor.

The difference between symptoms of coronavirus and pollen allergy

During the months of spring and summer, many people in Norway are affected by pollen allergy. The symptoms can resemble those of a coronavirus infection, such as a runny nose, sneezing, runny or itchy eyes and some also experience asthmatic distress.

However, pollen allergy does not bring about symptoms such as a sore throat, body aches or fever as can be seen with coronavirus.

Read more about pollen allergy and symptoms (in Norwegian)

Close contact

You are considered a close contact if you have been near someone who:

  • has a confirmed COVID-19 infection
  • AND
    you were two metres or closer to them for 15 minutes or more during the period from 48 hours prior to the onset of their symptoms and until the person has ended the isolation
  • OR
    you have been in direct contact (e.g. hugging or shaking hands) or been in contact with secretes such as saliva, sweat, snot, mucus and tears from someone who is ill.

Transmission and incubation time

Transmission occurs just when you turn ill and at the beginning of the course of the disease. There are clear indications that the risk of transmission is relatively high one to two days before the onset of symptoms. Contact tracing is therefore performed from 48 hours prior to the onset of symptoms.

Incubation time

Very few people turn ill more than 8–9 days after being exposed to the virus. Quarantine time is therefore set at 10 days.

Those that have had COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine for six months

If you have had a confirmed (laboratory tested) COVID-19 infection within the last six months, you are exempted from quarantine. This also applies to travel quarantine.

Persons who have had a COVID-19 infection are predominantly likely to be protected against a recurrence of the disease, but it is not yet known for how long this protection will last. Anyone showing symptoms of an acute respiratory infection shall, regardless of previously confirmed COVID-19 or not, stay at home until they are free of symptoms.

Ending of isolation

You should be completely free of symptoms in order to end the isolation. You need to be free of symptoms for 72 hours with a period of at least eight days having passed since the first symptoms appeared. For persons in hospital or who undergo immunosuppressant treatment the requirement for isolation may be longer.

Your isolation period also ends even in a situation where other members of your household are still in isolation or in quarantine.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health provides advice on isolation and how long you should be in isolation (in Norwegian).

Can the virus be transmitted by people who do not display any symptoms?

While the most typical route of transmission is via a person who displays symptoms, infection can also occur just prior to symptoms developing.

What should I do if I suspect that I am infected?

  • If you feel unwell, you should stay at home.
  • Anyone who suspects they might be infected (via close contact or travels in red areas/countries the last 10 days) should get tested.
  • Anyone who shows symptoms similar to a cold should get tested.
  • Visit the webpages of the municipality where you are located for information about testing.
  • If you are ill and in need of medical attention or individual health counselling, contact your doctor electronically or by telephone.
  • If you need urgent health assistance and cannot reach your doctor, you can call the emergency out-of-hours clinic (116 117).
  • In case of life-threatening illness or injury, call 113.
  • You should get tested if you develop symptoms while in quarantine. Visit the webpages of the local municipality for information on how testing is organized.

Here you will find information on isolation and quarantine.

Who should be tested for the coronavirus?

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends that anyone who suspects they might be infected by the coronavirus is given the opportunity to be tested. Those that should get tested are:

  • Anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, including anyone experiencing a sudden onset of symptoms of a respiratory tract infection.
  • Anyone who might have been exposed to the virus, either as a close contact to someone with confirmed COVID-19 or when arriving in Norway after having visited a red area during the preceding 10-day period*.
  • Other persons as assessed by a doctor.
  • Anyone who suspects they might be infected by the coronavirus.

*Children seem to play a smaller role in the transmission of the coronavirus than adults. Testing of children of kindergarten and primary school age without symptoms is therefore of minor importance. Children who do not display any symptoms can still be tested upon request and in consultation with parents and guardians.

Visit the webpages of your local municipality for information on how testing is organized or contact your doctor.

Take the Coronavirus Self-Checker to find out if you should get tested. Testing for the coronavirus is free of charge.

If your test comes back positive even though you do not show any symptoms and you have not been exposed to the virus by direct contact with a person with COVID-19, you should take a second test to confirm the first positive result.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommends a low threshold for suspecting COVID-19 for residents at nursing homes.

Everyone who is tested should stay at home until they have received a negative test result. You can return to work/school when your test result has come back negative and you are in good general condition (you feel well with no fever). This applies even if some symptoms of a respiratory infection still linger.

See further details on testing at NIPH.

We want to limit the level of infection in Norway. It is therefore important to test anyone showing symptoms, isolate those who are ill, perform contact tracing for others infected and to place persons in quarantine based on current criteria.

At limited capacity, groups should be tested by order of priority based on criteria set by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, that are assessed and updated continuously.

Many people wonder what applies to them and their closest contact while waiting for the test result. Your close contacts do not need to be in quarantine while awaiting your test results, but they should pay attention to their own symptoms. Should your test come back positive, you will have to be in isolation and your close contacts will need to be in quarantine. Those who this applies to will be notified.


Children of kindergarten and primary school age with only mild symptoms of a respiratory tract infection can stay at home to assess the symptoms for a couple of days prior to testing. The child should be tested for COVID-19 if a fever and cough is observed. If the symptoms of a respiratory infection are only mild with no fever or cough, you can assess the symptoms for two days at home. If the condition of the child does not improve, testing is recommended. If the condition of the child improves, the child can return to kindergarten/school without being tested.

Children of kindergarten and primary school age with a runny nose as the only symptom who are otherwise in a good condition without any additional signs of a newly developed respiratory tract infection do not need to stay at home nor be tested.

Test results at helsenorge.no

Your COVID-19 test results will be made available to you at helsenorge.no as soon as your sample is analysed and reported (typically one to two days after your sample was taken). Test results from all laboratories in Norway will be available here.

Take the Coronavirus Self-Checker. By answering a few questions, you will get specific advice and find out whether you should get tested.

Health personnel

The Institute of Public Health recommends that healthcare professionals who have been to yellow areas outside of Norway during the preceding 10 days period, and who work in patient care, provide one negative test for the coronavirus prior to returning to work. This applies to all employees, including new employees and substitutes. Testing can be considered at a local level for healthcare employees who do not have direct patient contact.

Health personnel who commute on a daily basis between Norway and red areas in Sweden/Finland as part of their travel between their place of work and place of residence are exempt from travel quarantine during work, provided they are tested for the coronavirus every 7 days as a minimum. This is assuming they do not simultaneously work in the Swedish or Finnish health and care services. The employer or client in Norway is responsible for organizing and financing the testing.

What is a test centre and who will be tested?

To reduce the risk of coronavirus infection being imported into Norway, those who arrive in Norway from both yellow and red areas will be offered a test. Testing is voluntary and free of charge. Test centres are established at selected airports, border controls and ports.

The course of the disease

The course of the disease can vary widely between individuals. Currently, the typical courses appear to be:

  • Mild course (this applies to the majority of those who become ill, about eight out of ten): Symptoms pass within one to two weeks and these is rarely a need for treatment from the healthcare services.
  • Moderate course: After four to seven days of mild symptoms, some people may experience breathing difficulties, worsening cough and a rising fever. If you experience breathing difficulties, you should contact your doctor. Some will need to be admitted to hospital.
  • Severe course: As for the moderate course, but these people also need intensive care treatment. They may have symptoms for three to six weeks. Some of those who become severely ill will die from the disease.

Information and knowledge about risk factors for a severe progression of COVID-19 is constantly growing. Admission to hospital, intensive care treatment and death are more common among the elderly and people with underlying diseases. The risk is increased with age and underlying diseases in particular. Younger persons without any known risk factors, can also experience a severe illness, but the risk is higher with underlying disease.

Treatment of coronavirus disease

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for the disease, but hospitals in Norway have now started registering patients with confirmed coronavirus infection in the Norwegian pandemic register (Norsk pandemiregister) to allow for improvements in treatment and follow-up.

See more information about the Norwegian pandemic register.