Detailed guide: Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested

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You can get a swab test to check if you currently have coronavirus. This is part of the 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing. Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing.

Who can be tested

Anyone with symptoms can get a coronavirus test, whatever their age.

You may be offered a test if you do not have symptoms. For example, if you work in a hospital or care home, if you attend a university or school, or if there is community testing where you live.

Register a home test kit

This advice applies to home swab test kits that are sent to a lab for processing (PCR tests).

Once youve taken your sample, you must register it via the link below so that we can send your results to you:

Record a rapid swab test result

If you had a rapid swab test (lateral flow test), you should get your result within 2 hours.

You must report a positive result to the NHS.

You can report your result online or by telephone:

  • England, Wales and Northern Ireland: 119 (free from mobiles and landlines)
  • Scotland: 0300 303 2713 (charged at your standard network rate)

We also ask that you report negative and invalid results: this helps the NHS to monitor the spread of the virus and support communities across the UK.

You do not need to report the results of tests that are processed at our labs (PCR tests).

If you are about to go to hospital

You may need to get tested if youre due to have surgery or a procedure.

The hospital will arrange this for you. Contact your hospital department if you have any questions.

Employer referral for essential workers

Employers can refer essential workers for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or members of their household have coronavirus symptoms.

They can do this by uploading the names and contact details of self-isolating essential workers to the secure employer referral portal.

Referred essential workers will then receive a text message with a unique invitation code to book a test for themselves (if symptomatic) or their symptomatic household members at a regional testing site.

To get a login to the employer referral portal, employers of essential workers should email with the following information:

  • organisation name
  • nature of the organisations business
  • region
  • names (where possible) and email addresses of the 2 users who will load essential worker contact details

Once employer details have been verified, 2 login credentials will be provided for the employer referral portal.

See the list of essential workers below.

The testing process

The first step of taking a test for coronavirus usually involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person themselves (self-administered) or by someone else (assisted).

The different ways you can get tested are covered below.

Test sites

Weve established a network of drive-through and walk-through test sites for people with coronavirus symptoms. Test sites are open 7 days a week. If you have symptoms you can book a test at a site near you online or by calling 119.

Around 1 in 3 people with coronavirus do not have any symptoms. There are sites being set up where people without symptoms can take rapid tests. Contact your local council, employer or place of study to find out more.

Home tests

Home test kits can be delivered to your door so you can test yourself and your family without leaving your home.

Home swab test kits that are sent to a lab for processing (PCR tests)

Most people get their result the next day but it can take up to 3 days. Anyone with symptoms can get a test online or by calling 119.

Watch how to take the test in this video: How to take a coronavirus self-test swab

See instructions on testing for coronavirus at home in accessible formats.

Rapid tests that give a result within 2 hours (Lateral Flow Antigen Tests)

You may be given a rapid test kit by your workplace, university or school. Watch a video on how to take a rapid test, read the result and report your result online.

Getting your results

How and when you get your results depends on the type of coronavirus test you are taking. Follow the instructions that come with your kit carefully to ensure you take the right steps for the kit youre using.

Get a test if youre visiting a care home

If youre visiting someone at a care home, you may be offered a rapid coronavirus test when you arrive. The care home you are visiting will provide you with the test kit. The test can tell if youre infectious or not within 2 hours.

Youll also be asked to put on protective clothing (PPE) as an additional step to help protect vulnerable residents. The degree of contact you can have with a care home resident will also depend on the care homes own regulations and on national restrictions.

Watch a video on what to expect when visiting a care home resident: How to prepare for your care home visit

See guidance below on testing for care home residents and workers.

Mobile testing units

Mobile testing units travel around the UK to increase access to coronavirus testing. They respond to need, travelling to test essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons.

New units are being brought into operation each day.

Satellite centres

NHS capability is being increased by providing test kits directly to satellite centres at places like hospitals that have a particularly urgent or significant need.

NHS facilities

Testing within an NHS facility such as a hospital is available for patients and some NHS workers.

Across all these testing methods, there is a network of couriers who collect the completed samples and deliver them safely to one of our laboratories. The swab samples are analysed at our labs and the result is communicated back to the individual.

We aim to return test results within 48 hours of a swab being taken, or within 72 hours for a home test.

Care homes


In England, all registered adult care homes can apply for coronavirus tests.

You should contact your local health protection team (HPT) if:

  • you suspect your care home has a new coronavirus outbreak (one or more suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19)
  • it has been 28 days or longer since your last case and you have new cases

Your HPT will provide advice and arrange the first tests. See a graphic summarising testing for care home staff and residents (PDF, 175KB, 6 pa

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