FAQs for testing
Below are testing FAQs related to testing.
They have been grouped into sections to help make navigation easier for you.
1. What is rapid community testing?
Everyone in England can access rapid COVID-19 testing.
Rapid tests are for people with no symptoms. The tests can help to detect Covid when people are at their most infectious so that quick action can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading.
Rapid tests are free, quick and easy with results available in 30 minutes.
2. Why has rapid community testing been announced?
One in three people that have COVID-19 do not have symptoms and could be passing it on without knowing. Rapid tests help to stop the spread of the virus.
Rapid testing, alongside following the rules around hands, face, space and fresh air and getting both doses of the Covid vaccine, when invited, are key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and helping us get back to a more normal way of life as soon as possible.
3. What is type of test is used for rapid testing and how does it work?
The testing on offer uses a type of technology called Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs).
A swab is inserted into the nose and throat; the test kit is then inserted into a fluid and some drops of this are put on a lateral flow device kit. This then gives a result in the form of coloured lines indicating a positive or negative result – a little like a pregnancy test – usually within an hour (the most commonly used test will give a result in about 30 mins).
4. How is a Lateral Flow device different to a PCR test?
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing (sometimes called a swab test) is available to anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19.
The PCR test is the “gold standard” for testing but the results need to be processed in a laboratory and so it usually takes between 24 to 72 hours for someone in the community to get their test result back. This does not matter for people who have symptoms as they should be at home self-isolating while they wait for their test result.
Lateral Flow Devices use a similar swab to collect the sample, but these swabs are processed and provide results in 30 minutes. This is why they can have a use for people who do not have symptoms but who are still infectious because, even though they miss some people who have the virus, it can identify people who did not know they were infected. If these people isolate quickly they can avoid passing the virus on to people.
5. How effective is rapid testing?
No test is perfect. The most accurate test we have for COVID-19 is the “PCR” test that is available when people have symptoms (ii). Test results can take a day or so to come back, but are usually very accurate and means that people can be reasonably confident in these results and continue to self-isolate if it comes back positive.
Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) can give a much quicker result (usually within an hour) but these tests are not as accurate as PCR tests. A negative LFD test is not a 100% guarantee that you do not have the virus. However, lateral flow tests tend to detect individuals in their most infectious period. As 1 in 3 people may have the virus and never get symptoms, this can be a useful tool in the box to find extra cases of COVID-19 before the virus is passed on.
In an evaluation of the mass community testing pilot in Liverpool, compared to PCR tests, these tests picked up 5 out of 10 of the cases that PCR tests detected and more than 7 out of 10 cases with higher viral loads (amounts of the virus in their nose and throat), who are likely to be the most infectious. This means that the tests missed between 3 to 5 out of every ten infectious people.
Because of this, people need to both continue to “act like they have the virus” even if their test result is negative and ensure that they wash their hands, socially distance and wear face coverings.
Also, this means regular testing is key. If you are having contacts with other people regularly, you could have caught the virus and started to pass it on, even if a recent test showed you are negative.
6. Will LFDs pick up the new strains of COVID-19?
Yes the LFDs will pick up the known new strains.
7. Is it compulsory to take this test?
No. We're hoping that many people will recognise the benefits of getting involved in local testing efforts to reduce the spread of the virus in their communities.
8. Why should people take part?
We aim to identify people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms but who are infectious and could spread the infection to others unknowingly. Identifying and supporting infectious people to isolate before they develop symptoms will help reduce spread.
9. Do I still have to go for testing if I've received the COVID-19 vaccination?
Current advice for those vaccinated is that they continue with all current guidance and advice with regards to COVID-19 restrictions; this includes testing.