Testing for coronavirus

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can now be tested in the UK to see if they have the virus.
holding a coronavirus test
Correct as of 30 July 2020

Anybody with symptoms for coronavirus can get a free test to check if they have the virus. This is called an antigen test and will tell you if you currently have a coronavirus infection. 

Who can have a test?

You can get a test to check if you have coronavirus if: 

  • You have any of the three main coronavirus symptoms - a new continuous cough, fever, or, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste (anosmia).
  • For yourself if you have been told to have a test before you go into hospital, for example, for surgery.
  • For someone you live with if they have coronavirus symptoms.

You need to apply for a test in the first five days of having symptoms - don't wait!

Please help the NHS and only ask for a test if you or someone you live with has symptoms now.

Read more on testing 

Testing for those without symptoms

Staff and residents in care homes for older people or people with dementia can also have a test whether or not they have symptoms.

How to book a test

There are two ways of getting a test.  You can

  • Book an appointment at a local drive-through or walk through test site
  • Ask for a home test kit which will be delivered to your home. This needs to be done and returned within 48 hours.

If you are eligible for testing but don't have internet, you can call 119. The Testing Call Centre is open from 7am to 11pm and can be accessed by people with speech or language difficulties as well as by people whose first language isn't English.

What the test involves

The test usually involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat, using a long cotton bud.

You can do the swab yourself if you are aged 12 or over, or someone can do it for you.

Children aged 11 or under cannot do the swab themselves. Their parent or guardian will have to swab test them.

Where are tests carried out?

You can book a test appointment at a fixed or mobile testing site, or ask for a home testing kit and do the test yourself at home.   

How long does it take to get results?

Most people find out within 48 hours if they have visited a testing centre, or 72 hours if using a home test kit. 

How Test and Trace works

The NHS Test and Trace programme has been launched by the Government to track every single case of coronavirus to reduce the rate of infection and save lives.

If you have symptoms

Step 1 Isolate As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days. Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

Step 2 Test Arrange a coronavirus test immediately at nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access.

Step 3 Results If your test is positive, continue the 10-day isolation period. Anyone in your household should also self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to isolate.

Step 4 Share contacts If you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test and Trace service will make contact within 24 hours and tell you how to share information about who you have been in contact with and where you have visited.

If you are contacted by Test and Trace

Step 1 Alert

You will get a text or email alert from NHS Test and Trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.  You should then log on to the NHS test and trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue

Step 2 Isolate

You will be told to self isolate for 14 days from your last contact with the person who has tested positive. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell because, if you have been infected, you could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, if you do not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home

Step 3 Test if needed

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household must self-isolate immediately at home for 14 days and you must book a test .

If your test is positive, you must continue to stay at home for at least 10 days and the NHS will get in touch to ask about your contacts since they must self-isolate.

If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet - this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.

Find out more

Cambridgeshire County Council have published some useful information about how Test and Trace works locally. And what their plan is to manage local outbreaks of Covid-19. 

Finding out if you have had coronavirus

The Government is starting to offer antibody tests and giving priority to  NHS and care home staff.

Clinicians will also be able to request the tests for patients in both hospital and social care settings if they think it’s appropriate.

This is a blood test which looks for antibodies to see if someone has already had the virus. 

If you receive a positive antibody result it does not mean that you’re immune, or that you cannot pass on the virus to others. It also does not mean that you can ignore social distancing measures.

How services are changing because of Covid 19

Read our advice and guidance on coronavirus and find out how services are changing to meet people's needs. 

Find out more