With Covid cases dropping and life beginning to open up once more, it’s tempting to think we’ve finally beaten the virus.

With Covid cases dropping and life beginning to open up once more, it’s tempting to think we’ve finally beaten the virus.

But even though we’ve got fantastic vaccines, they’re not the entire answer to the problem – not everyone has yet had the jab, and none of them currently offer 100 per cent protection.

However, we do have another brilliant weapon in our arsenal – rapid testing. Not only does this give a result in just 30 minutes, it can pick up the around one-in-three cases in which people don’t show any symptoms.

It’s vital these are detected to prevent people unknowingly spreading the virus.

And the good news is that these rapid Covid-19 tests are now available free to everyone aged over 18 in the UK. They can be picked up at your neighbourhood test centre, any participating local pharmacy or ordered online at nhs.uk/Get-Tested or by calling 119.

Experts say we should all be getting into the habit of testing ourselves at home twice a week. That way we can catch Covid at the point it becomes highly infectious, and stop the spread.

GP Dr Amir Khan explains: ‘Rapid testing is effective at detecting people who are infectious, and helping us find Covid-19 cases that we otherwise wouldn’t know about. That will help us in our efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Testing regularly, even when you do not have symptoms, means we can keep infection levels low and our country safe. The good thing is they give you a result within 30 minutes.’

Rapid Covid-19 tests – which are different from the PCR tests performed at test centres (see opposite page) – were first used in the UK in October last year.

Since then, 58 million tests have been carried out, and detected hundreds of thousands of cases that would never have been picked up, so preventing the spread of the disease.

And they’re incredibly accurate. ‘When done correctly, the tests are at least 99.9 per cent specific, which means that the risk of false positives is extremely low – less than one in a thousand,’ says Dr Khan. ‘It’s a very good test. ‘Testing ourselves for coronavirus using rapid Covid-19 tests is vital to us keeping
ourselves and others safe and keeping infection rates in our communities low.’

Even when regularly using the tests, you should continue with other preventative measures such as social distancing, face covering and washing your hands regularly. The advice of ‘Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air’ still applies.

It’s also important to always record your test result – whether positive, negative or void – online at gov.uk/report-covid19-result or by calling 119 straight away.

This will help experts get a better understanding of the spread of the virus across the country, and allow scientists to use the anonymous information to spot patterns and outbreaks more quickly and accurately, helping reduce the risk of future lockdowns. It’s vital to record negative results as well as positive to get an accurate picture of Covid-19 across the UK.

So start testing yourself and your family now to help keep the country out of lockdown, protect others, and show your friends, family and colleagues you care.

If you have no symptoms, get your free, rapid Covid-19 tests at nhs.uk/Get-Tested or by calling 119.

‘It’s so quick – I get the result before I’ve even had a cup of tea in the morning’

When she left her temporary job at a care home last autumn for a new job in PR, Emma Stannard no longer had to do the twice-weekly rapid Covid tests it had insisted on.

But the 22-year-old found that she missed the reassurance the tests gave her that she wasn’t spreading the virus unknowingly.

So when she discovered the tests were available to the public, she immediately got some.

‘They are easy to use and very accurate,’ says Emma. ‘I wake up, test myself, get showered and, while having breakfast, the result appears. I scan the barcode of the test and record my result on the Government website before finishing my first cup of tea of the day!’

Emma was relieved to be testing herself again, as she’d got into the habit while working as a carer last summer.

‘The results would come back the next day, and I thought it a really good idea because you could be asymptomatic, and it’s always better to know.’

Especially when her fourth test came back positive. ‘I think I cried because it was a shock – I didn’t have any symptoms and was following the rules. I felt so guilty – I’d been working with very vulnerable people and didn’t know how many I’d infected.’

Thankfully it had been caught before it had spread. ‘It was a weight off my shoulders,’ she says.

‘I had COVID-19 without knowing’

On the day she was going out for a walk with a friend on December 27 last year, Claire Devy routinely tested herself for Covid-19.

The 47-year-old had been given a pack of them earlier in the month by the NHS trust she works for, and had routinely used them twice a week.

‘I thought I’d be fine,’ says the mother-of-two from Saddleworth.

‘I put on my coat and boots then checked the test and thought, “What’s that?” It was positive. I got my glasses to double check, then called my partner who confirmed it.

‘I was really shocked. I don’t know where I got it from. I thought I’d been careful’.

She cancelled her walk and booked a PCR test, convinced it would be negative. But it wasn’t.

‘I was worried about my family,’ she admits. ‘We self-isolated, but a few days later, one of my sons showed symptoms – thankfully, a test proved negative.’

Two days after her first test, Claire lost her sense of smell and taste, although those were her only Covid symptoms.

‘Fortunately, I hadn’t seen anyone over Christmas, and I was so glad – I’d have felt guilty if I’d given it to someone,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a family member with cancer, who I’d been helping out with jobs around her house. She’d just had major surgery, and I was mortified at the thought I could have gone to hers without knowing I was infectious.’

Now she’s seen how important testing is, Claire is urging everyone else to test themselves regularly.

‘It’s important in that we can hopefully slow down the spread of Covid-19. If I’d gone into work with the virus, I’d have felt so guilty.’

‘I feel reassured that I can carry on working’

With a father at home suffering from a chronic lung disease, Shawn McGarrett has taken no chances with coronavirus.

‘I’ve been taking twice-weekly tests, just dropping into the local community centre where you get the result back in half an hour,’ says the 29-year-old plumber.

‘It was never a pain to do, and it made me feel reassured that I could carry on working – seeing to all my clients, some of whom are quite elderly and infirm.’

But then one came back positive.‘I never felt unwell and had none of the symptoms that they say you get with Covid,’ says Shawn, from south London. ‘I was surprised.

‘I immediately put myself in quarantine for ten days. It has cost me quite a lot, but I know it was something that had to be done. There are simple rules that we’re being asked to follow, and if we
do that, the sooner we can all get back to life as we once knew it.’

Rapid Covid-19 TEST vs PCR TEST – What's the difference?

Rapid Covid-19 test These are for people who show no signs of Covid-19, and should be performed twice a week at home by everyone. They can be picked up at your local test centre or participating pharmacy, or ordered online at nhs.uk/Get-Tested or by calling 119. They are free. The results should be recorded online at gov.uk/report-covid19-result and, if positive, you should immediately book a PCR test and self-isolate along with anyone you live with.

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test These are for people who think they may have Covid because they have symptoms such as a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste. They are performed at local test centres or at home; book online at nhs.uk/Get-Tested or call 119. The results take a few days and, if positive, you and your family should continue to self-isolate for at least ten days after your symptoms started.

◼This article is part of a paid-for partnership with the UK Government