Coronavirus: How pattern of symptoms has changed and what children particularly show if infected

The symptom pattern of COVID-19 has changed and some people are experiencing atypical symptoms, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says.

The most common symptoms are a cough, sore and scratchy throat, runny nose, and fever. Less common symptoms include diarrhoea, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, malaise, chest pain, abdominal pain, joint pain, or confusion and irritability. These almost always occur with one or more of the common symptoms, the Ministry of Health says.

Symptoms normally arise about two to five days after a person has been infected, but may take longer.

Despite these common symptoms, Dr Bloomfield says children, in particular, can show the virus differently.

"I've seen some reports of gastro tummy symptoms, particularly in children. We have seen that throughout the pandemic, some people have what we call these atypical symptoms," he says.

"So the symptom pattern has shifted. Early on, the thing that was really indicative of COVID-19 was this loss of sense of smell and taste."

But that doesn't seem to be the same for Omicron, Dr Bloomfield says, and instead this variant has upper respiratory tract symptoms.

"That can include earache, which some people are reporting as well, which is typical of an upper respiratory tract infection," he says.

Dr Bloomfield adds that people who haven't had their booster vaccine dose are more likely to be symptomatic and have a higher chance of experiencing more severe symptoms.

Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Photo credit: Getty Images

His comments come as New Zealand reported 19,566 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday - a new record - and 373 hospitalised with the virus.

There are reports of large queues for rapid antigen tests, with Dr Bloomfield anticipating a tough few weeks for New Zealand's health system due to high COVID infection rates.

"New Zealand, like every other country in the world, has not escaped Omicron to date but where we can be an exception is how well we minimise the spread and the impact of the virus and protect people as much as possible from it," he says.

"There's no doubt the next few weeks are going to be tough - the health system can't do it alone so thanks in advance to all New Zealanders continuing to support our efforts to live with the virus on our terms."