There are different tests you can get to check if you have coronavirus (COVID-19). The test you need depends on why you're getting tested.
The 2 main tests are:
- PCR tests – mainly for people with symptoms, they're sent to a lab to be checked
- rapid lateral flow tests – only for people who do not have symptoms, they give a quick result using a device similar to a pregnancy test
Both tests are free.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19
Get a PCR test as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms, even if mild:
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough
- a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
Stay at home until you get your test result – only leave your home to have a test. Check if people you live with need to self-isolate
Rapid tests if you do not have symptoms
About 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have symptoms but can still infect others.
Rapid tests help to check if someone has COVID-19. If people test positive and self-isolate, it helps stop the virus spreading.
Research shows rapid tests are a reliable test for COVID-19. They give a quick result and do not need to be sent to a lab.
Even if you’re vaccinated, you could still catch the virus or pass it on. Doing rapid tests helps to protect yourself and others.
Other reasons to get tested
Confirming a previous test result
Get a PCR test as soon as possible if:
- you've done a rapid lateral flow test and had a positive result or your test sample could not be read (void result)
- you had a PCR test and your test sample could not be read
If you have symptoms, stay at home until you get the result of the 2nd test.
If you've been in close contact with someone who's tested positive
If you've been in close contact with someone who's tested positive for COVID-19 you can get a PCR test, whether or not you have symptoms.
What does close contact mean?
Examples of close contact include:
- face-to-face contact under 1 metre for any length of time – including talking to them or being coughed on
- being within 1 metre of each other for 1 minute or longer
- being within 2 metres of each other for more than 15 minutes in total in 1 day
Getting tested can tell you if you had COVID-19 at the time you did the test.
If you test positive, you can help the NHS contact people who may have caught the virus from you. They can then self-isolate and avoid passing it on to others.
Going into hospital
You may need to get tested if you're due to have surgery or a procedure.
The hospital will arrange this for you. Contact your hospital department if you have any questions.
Travelling abroad from England
You may need to take a test before, during and after your trip. This depends on where you are going.
You’ll need to pay for a test yourself. You cannot use a free test from the NHS.
If you're taking part in surge testing
Surge testing is taking place in some areas of England to help prevent new outbreaks of COVID-19 from spreading.
Your local council will tell you if you need to take part and how to get tested.
If you're taking part in surge testing, you’ll be asked to do a PCR test at a test site, or to use a PCR test kit at home.
Care home residents and staff
Care home managers can get PCR tests for staff and residents even if they do not have symptoms.