How to get a COVID test
COVID tests are a quick, simple way to find out whether you’ve contracted the coronavirus. But the advice is always changing and you might struggle to understand which test is right for you.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to get a COVID test in the UK.
How to get a COVID test: what are your options?
Coronavirus tests are available from both the NHS and private providers.
NHS tests are free, and private tests come with a fee. You can expect to pay at least £100 for a private COVID test, depending on the type you choose.
You can buy private coronavirus tests at various recognisable brands on the High Street, such as Superdrug and Boots. Alternatively, you can purchase a COVID test from dedicated private corona testing centres located across the UK.
Home testing is also available. But be aware that samples can become contaminated when self-administered tests are undertaken at home, outside of a clinical environment.
When to take a COVID test: which do you need?
PCR and Antigen tests
Some COVID tests will tell you if you’re currently infected with coronavirus. You should take this test as soon as you start to experience symptoms.
If the test confirms an infection, you’ll need to follow the latest rules and regulations to avoid spreading COVID to anyone else. Anyone who tests positive for COVID, or is told to self-isolate, is legally required to isolate themselves for at least 10 days. However, 14 days is the recommended period.
You may be fined between £1,000 and £10,000 if you choose not to self-isolate. And you may infect others if you ignore regulations.
You should also self-isolate if a member of your household is experiencing symptoms or tests positive for COVID. It’s also a legal requirement to isolate yourself if you have just arrived in the UK from a country with a high coronavirus risk.
COVID symptoms are:
- A high temperature
- A loss of taste or smell, or a change in either sense
- A new, continuous cough.
COVID antibody tests
Other COVID tests tell if you’ve had the coronavirus in the past. These tests detect antibodies to COVID, and tell you if your immune system has responded to the coronavirus already. The antibodies remain in the body once the infection has come to an end, though it’s not clear how long the COVID antibodies linger as of yet.
An antibody test can give you a little peace of mind when returning to work or visiting family. But it does not mean that you are immune to coronavirus.
Fit to Fly
You can also take Fit to Fly tests, designed to give you the all clear for international travel. How soon you’ll need to get your test will depend on the location you’re planning to travel to.
Some countries want to see a negative result from a COVID PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test taken within the past seven days. Other countries require you to present a negative test result from a sample taken within the past 48 hours only. That obviously requires you to plan your traveling carefully and efficiently.
For example, the USA offers some commercial flight options for travellers returning to the UK, but UK nationals holding a US visa may be unable to re-enter the US while travel restrictions are in effect.
It’s crucial to check the Foreign Office rules for any international destination you consider visiting.
Between November 5th and December 2nd 2020, international travel is restricted from England — except for certain situations involving work or education. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have their own rules for travel.
How to get a COVID test from the NHS: which tests are available?
At the time of writing, the NHS only offers one type of test: the PCR swab test. This tells you whether or not you are currently infected with COVID.
The PCR test involves taking a swab of your nose and throat, but it's not always 100% accurate. It’s believed to be 70% accurate in some cases because of insufficient swabbing. Thus, a negative result doesn’t mean you can stop self-isolating if you’re experiencing symptoms. You should remain in isolation for the full recommended duration.
Your swab sample will undergo analysis in the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) Microbiology Laboratory. Your results will be uploaded to the EPR system, and you will be informed of your result within 48 hours via telephone. Your result will be positive, negative, or inconclusive.
The NHS PCR test does not tell if you have developed coronavirus antibodies, unlike an antibody test. It also isn’t valid as certification for you to be Fit to Fly.
NHS tests can be booked through the NHS website, and are performed at NHS testing centres.
How to get a private COVID test: which tests are available?
Dedicated private centres offer private COVID testing, with simple online booking and fast processing.
Corona Test Centre is operated by healthcare professionals with invaluable experience in sampling and testing for COVID-19. It provides a safe, comfortable, London-based clinical environment for the highest accuracy possible.
You can book your test online, with the flexibility to choose a time that suits you best. Tests can be completed within 10 minutes for your convenience.
Various types of COVID tests are available at Corona Test Centre:
- PCR Fit to Fly
- PCR Test
- Antigen Test
- Antibody Test
Samples for all tests are analysed seven days a week.
So let’s take a closer look at each test type.
PCR Fit to Fly and PCR test: 99% accurate
Corona Test Centre’s PCR Fit to Fly Test is a PCR test, in which a throat and nose swab is taken. This will tell you if you have COVID currently, and has an accuracy of 99.9%.
It is UKAS and Public Health England accredited. You will receive a Fit to Fly certificate to present when you arrive at your international destination.
These comply with necessary requirements for countries with highly-strict requirements, such as South Korea, China, Japan, and Hong Kong.
Corona Test Centre also offers a PCR Test which does not include a Fit to Fly certificate for a smaller fee.
Antigen test: 93.8% accurate
The COVID-19 Antigen Test involves taking a nose swab, and shows if you are infected with COVID currently by looking for antigens (pieces of the virus recognised by the immune system).
The Antigen Test has an accuracy of 93.8%.
The Antibody Test involves taking a blood sample to determine if you have had COVID-19 previously and developed an immune response.
It identifies COVID-specific antibodies (IgM and igG) and is best taken at least 14 days after you experience your first COVID-19 symptoms. This test has an accuracy of 98% and uses globally-certified AFIA diagnostic machines supplied by a listed South Korean biotech company.
Getting your private COVID test results
For all tests, secure, verifiable results are sent via email in Apple/Android wallet, PDF and digital formats. You will receive a secure, verifiable test result certificate on the same day for the Antigen and Antibody tests. For PCR tests, results will be available within one or two days.
Your test will be performed at one of our London-based Corona Test Centre branches:
Or in our branch in Manchester.
Our healthcare professionals do not perform testing on walk-ins. All testing is by appointment only, to maintain the highest standards of safety and efficiency. Drop us a line today, and we’ll give you all the information you need on how to get a COVID test at one of our locations.