Returning to work after COVID: What to look out for and when to return

By Staff writers + The Conversation

Cafe worker at work with mask
There is varied advice when it comes to returning to work after COVID. 

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health advises “If you still have symptoms after your isolation period has ended, you should continue to stay home and recover. This should be until 24 hours after your symptoms resolve.”

Symptoms can include one or more of the following:

  • a new or worsening cough
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • a fever
  • temporary loss of smell or altered sense of taste
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath


However for some people, the cough sticks around. Almost 2.5% of people are still coughing a year after being infected with COVID. And for those suffering Long COVID, the symptoms can last longer than four weeks. Long COVID describes the symptoms that continue or develop after the initial COVID-19 symptoms.

After completing your isolation time, currently 7 days, you do not need a test to leave isolation. This is because the result would likely show as positive but that does not mean you are infectious. If you are still sick, remember to stay home until you are well and for 24 hours after your symptoms resolve.

Returning to work after isolating for COVID

When returning to work, it is important to think about the ventilation of your work space even once the symptoms have passed. The lingering dry cough can often make others feel uncomfortable around you once you have had COVID. It is important employers support staff returning to work and workplace discrimination does not occur.

Increasing ventilation indoors, with fresh outdoor air, can help move the air in the office. The best strategy is simply to open windows and doors.

Air conditioners can help, but they must be on the right setting. You don’t want to recirculate indoor air, as this just fans the same air around the room (but now colder or warmer).

Instead, always make sure your air conditioner is set to bring in 100% fresh air from outside. There are settings in offices that allow the system to increase air change per hour, meaning it can reduce the time it takes for all the air inside the room to be completely replaced with outside fresh air.

Even after recovering from COVID, people should continue to be diligent regarding hand hygiene and cough etiquette and practise social distancing.

If you continue to feel unwell, talk to your doctor or call Healthline NZ on 0800 358 5453 or the National COVID Helpline AU 1800 020 080.



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