United Kingdom

How the Government's mass Covid testing plan will work

What are my options for getting a Covid-19 test in the UK?

People with coronavirus symptoms should be tested as soon as possible and stay at home.

The government urges people with symptoms not to delay being tested: "You need to get the test done in the first five days of having symptoms."

The NHS offers a free test to check if people have the virus.

"You can have a test (swab test) to check if you have coronavirus now. You can choose to take the test at a test site near you today and get your result tomorrow [or] with a home test kit," the NHS explains on its website.

People must be cautious and self-isolate if they suspect they have coronavirus: "If you are getting a test because you have symptoms, you and anyone you live with must stay at home (self-isolate) until you get your result.

"Anyone in your support bubble must also self-isolate until you get your result."

What is the Government mass testing plan?

Boris Johnson announced mass testing for all areas that enter Tier 3, as part of his Covid winter plan that comes into force once England's lockdown ends on December 2.

The plans come as the Prime Minister revealed a strengthened three-tier system of local restrictions, with many areas expected to be put in the toughest tier.

Mr Johnson told Ministers: “Together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic armed forces, we will now launch a major community testing programme offering all local authorities in Tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing.

“The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative."

Mr Johnson also implied towns and regions that engage in mass testing will have a "much greater chance of easing the rules.”

A pilot mass testing programme will begin in Liverpool later this week, with 'rapid turnaround testing' being rolled out. People will swab themselves in the morning and get the results back within 20 to 90 minutes, like a pregnancy test.

Students at De Montfort University are among the first to try tests which give results in 20-30 minutes.

The pilot project is to help minimize the risk when students return home for Christmas.

The news comes after Mr Johnson said last week, "We're also working with universities to establish, as soon as possible, similar mass-testing capacity for students up and down the country," he told the Downing Street press conference.

Although Mr Johnson previously said the project was "still in its infancy" the roll out of rapid tests is to begin at the end of the month. Universities in areas with the highest rates of the disease are to be prioritised.

The entire population of Liverpool was offered regular coronavirus testing from November 6 with 2,000 members of the armed forces providing logistical assistance.

Read more: Should I send my child to school with a cold?

Are home antibody tests reliable?

The NHS said: "Home antibody test kits are not currently recommended as it has not been confirmed if they're safe and reliable yet. You can pay for a test to be done at a private clinic, if you want to." 

I want to go abroad - can I get a Covid-19 test to avoid quarantine?

Under current government rules travellers entering into the UK from any country listed on the quarantine list must self-isolate for 14 days. 

This applies to travellers who have had and recovered from coronavirus and also applies to travellers who have tested negative for Covid-19 and do not have any symptoms. 

Read more:  How to book a Covid test for travelling abroad

Can I test positive for Covid-19 before experiencing any symptoms?

Studies have highlighted the significance of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. 

Research carried out by Imperial College London, Ipsos MORI and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust found that 81 per cent of people testing positive reported no symptoms on the day of the test or the previous week. 

Is it possible to get a false positive Covid-19 test result?

The accuracy of coronavirus tests has been called into question in recent months.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, cited evidence compiled by the University of Bristol which found that Covid-19 swab tests produced false negative rates of between 2 per cent and 29 per cent. 

However, the accuracy of testing depends on a range of factors including the type of test being used.

What are the new Rapid tests, and how can I get one?  

The two new tests announced by the Government earlier this month include DNA tests and swab tests. Some 5,000 “Nudgebox” machines, supplied by a biotech called DnaNudge, will provide 5.8 million tests, the department said.  

The machines, already in use in eight London hospitals, analyse the DNA in nose swabs and can process up to 15 tests on the spot each day, giving a result in up to 90 minutes. They can be operated outside a laboratory and do not require staff to undergo specialist training. More machines will be rolled out across NHS hospitals from September.  

The DnaNudge has now made the test available to consumers with the launch of a low-cost "Bubble Test". These new tests give purchasers the ability to test up to 10 people at a time using one DnaNudge testing cartridge. As of this week, the DnaNudge test is available from £100 per cartridge (£10 per person) and can be purchased online or via appointment from the flagship store in London's Covent Garden. More information can be found here.

The second new test, known as the LamPORE test will be able to process swab and saliva samples to detect the presence of Covid-19 in 60 to 90 minutes. The new test, developed by Oxford Nanopore which spun out of Oxford University, has the same sensitivity as the widely-used PCR swab test but can process swabs outside specialist laboratories.   

A palm-sized machine will process up to 2,000 tests a day while the larger desktop machine will be able to analyse up to 15,000 tests.

The LamPORE test is not currently available to purchase over the counter or online, but you may be tested using one through the Government’s Test and Trace scheme.

Liverpool City Council have also announced that testing will be extended to pupils aged 11-18 in 12 secondary schools and one special school.

The city's mayor Joe Anderson said 23,170 people have been tested for coronavirus in the city since midday on Friday, with 0.7% testing positive.

Overall, the infection rate in Liverpool has seen a decrease in it's infection rate - from 700 cases per 100,000 people in mid-October to 300.4 cases per 100,000 people on November 6.

In a press conference on November 16, Dr Susan Hopkins shared that nearly 100,000 people have been tested with lateral flow devices in Liverpool, and the method is expected to be replicated around the country. 

A similar lateral flow testing method is likely to take place in schools and universities, as Dr Hopkins suggested students will receive a test before they travel home for the Christmas holiday. She noted that a “negative test means you are unlikely to have the virus at that time, but people must still follow the rules”. 

How do I book an NHS Covid-19 test?

The NHS says that from day one to day four of showing symptoms people are able to be tested at a site or at home. 

"If you're ordering a home test kit on day four, do it by 3pm. On day five, you need to go to a test site. It's too late to order a home test kit," the NHS explains.

It says that people are able to order tests for others in their household: "If other people you live with have symptoms, you can order tests for up to three of them.

"If you're applying for a test for someone else, and the person is aged 13 or over, check they're happy for you to get a test for them."

Apply online at www.gov.uk or phone 119 if you have problems using the internet.

How long does the test result take?

A text or email will be sent when results are ready, with most people receiving results the day after the test.

"Some results might take longer, but you should get them in 72 hours," the NHS says.

"There are three types of results you can get: negative; positive; and unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive.

"If you do not get your result, call the coronavirus testing contact centre on 119 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 0300 303 2713 (Scotland). The contact centre is open from 7am to 11pm."

What are antibody tests, and can I get one in the UK?

An antibody test is a blood test that checks if someone has had coronavirus. Free antibody testing is not yet widely available.

"It's currently offered to NHS and care staff, as well as some hospital patients and care home residents," according to the NHS.

Here's what the NHS says about the test:

​In late July, The Telegraph reported that the hunt for a "game-changing" antibody test could be over after a version backed by the UK Government passed its first major trials with flying colours.

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