Getting a test for coronavirus

From 1 April 2022 free access to COVID-19 testing ended for most people in England. Adults and children who develop symptoms or test positive continue to be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people; adults for 5 days, children for 3 days. No testing is required for people to end any self-isolation they have undertaken, but are asked to be aware of having a high temperature - if this persists, people should try to stay at home. Due to their addtional vulnerablity, people with a high risk of becoming seriouslly ill should be avoided for a period of 10 days.

Guidance and testing remains in place for staff in particularly vulnerable services such as adult care, healthcare, and prisons and places of detention. Access to the Government’s national testing portal (opens in a new window) is now largely reserved for these groups. All patients being admitted to hospital require a COVID-19 test. In additions, some patients may be asked to have a PCR test by their doctor/consultant if this is considered necessary for them to receive the best and most appropriate assessment and treatment.


What are the tests for coronavirus?

There are two main types of viral detection test; the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, where results are processed in a laboratory, and the rapid lateral flow test (LFT/LFD) where results can be available within 30 minutes in the home or wherever the test is taken. There is also an antibody test, but this is not generally available.

The PCR/swab test requires two separate viral swabs, a nose swab and a throat swab. If a PCR test is to be successful it needs to be done in the first 8 days of having symptoms, although the best results are within the first 3 days.

Most people can no longer access free PCR testing and government guidance is now concerned with the actions people can take to protect others if they are unwell with symptoms of a respiratory infection, including COVID-19.

Access to free rapid LFD testing is also now only available to specific groups, including NHS and social care staff, patients and care home residents. Workplace testing outside of these groups may be available to employees if funded by employers. Rapid LFD tests are available for sale over-the-counter from various pharmacies and other retail outlets, including some supermarkets, which anyone can purchase.

The viral detection tab below has more information about which groups can continue to access free COVID-19 testing.

The antibody test tells you if you have had coronavirus in the past. This is a blood test which is only available in limited circumstances. 

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