The complete guide to COVID testing in 2022 – CovidTests.co.uk

We’re quickly approaching two years since the first lot of COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in the UK.

While we’ve made a lot of progress since then thanks to our world-leading vaccine rollout, the pandemic is still ongoing and testing for COVID-19 remains to be a big part of our daily lives.

At the time of writing, government data shows that a whopping 1.5 million tests are being carried out each day on average, and this is playing a huge role in our ongoing fight against the virus.

Why is COVID-19 testing important?

Testing for COVID-19 is one of the key methods we have of controlling the virus.

By regularly testing and identifying positive cases, it’s possible to isolate those who have the virus, slow down its spread, and protect the vulnerable.

Testing is so important, in fact, that the UK Government has long since made it possible for private individuals to acquire self-testing kits for use in the home.

Testing saves lives

Testing of all people for SARS-CoV-2, including those who have no symptoms, helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 by identifying people who need care. A positive test early in the course of infection enables individuals to isolate themselves, thus reducing the chances that they will infect others.

Testing of individuals who have been in contact with those who have a positive infection is also very important. A negative test doesn’t mean you’re in the clear, however, because you could become infectious later. Therefore, even if you test negative, you need to continue to protect yourself and others by washing your hands frequently, physically distancing, wearing a mask, and continuing to test regularly.

Since it is widely known that nearly half of all COVID-19 infections are transmitted by people who are not showing any symptoms (asymptomatic transmission), identifying infected individuals while they are positive but not showing symptoms has and continues to play a major role in ending the pandemic.

Testing is quick and easy

During the early development of the pandemic, testing was a difficult process. The infrastructure wasn’t there to accommodate large-scale testing, and the only test available was an uncomfortable swab of the back of the throat.

Since then, however, testing has come a long way and there are now several options available to the public.

The type of test (i.e., PCR, lateral flow, antibody) and the provider (i.e., NHS, government, private sector) depends on the reason a test is being taken. Someone who’s showing symptoms, for example, will qualify for a free NHS PCR test whereas someone who’s going on holiday will need to pay for a private test.

Thanks to developments in testing equipment, infrastructure, and capacity, tests are now widely available, and results can be delivered in as little as 15 minutes in some cases.

Types of COVID-19 test

There are different types of COVID-19 test available, and which one needs to be conducted depends on the use case and what’s being tested for.

COVID-19 tests can either detect the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 (viral tests), or antibodies that your body makes after a COVID-19 infection or vaccination (antibody tests):

Viral tests

A viral test detects whether you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. There are two types of viral tests: rapid antigen tests (also known as lateral flow tests) and laboratory tests (also known as PCR tests).

Viral tests use samples that come from your nose, mouth, or throat. Rapid antigen tests can be completed by anyone in a matter of minutes whereas laboratory PCR tests must be taken by a clinician with results coming back after 12 to 72 hours on average.

Rapid antigen tests can be taken anywhere, are easy to use, and give a quick result whereas PCR tests are more expensive but have higher accuracy.

Antibody tests

An antibody test detects SARS-CoV-2 antibodies tat are present in your blood. These are proteins made by the immune system that fight off infection and prevent future infections. If an antibody test comes back positive, it means you have had a previous COVID-19 infection.

Antibody tests should not be used:

To diagnose a potential active infection

If you have immunity following vaccination

If you know that you have an active infection

Choosing the right type of COVID-19 test

If you need a test, it’s important to choose the right type of test.

When should I have a PCR test?

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA. These tests are usually carried out by a clinician who takes a swap of the nose and/or throat. PCR tests are able to detect tiny amounts of RNA meaning that they’re very accurate and are the best for detecting an active infection.

Patients with COVID-19 usually start to become positive by PCR testing a day or two before symptoms start and will continue to test positive by PCR afterwards for some time. Repeat PCR once a diagnosis has been made is not necessary.

You should get a PCR test if:

You are showing symptoms of COVID-19, or

If you have a positive rapid antigen (lateral flow) test

If you fall within either of the above two categories, then you can arrange an NHS PCR test by calling 119.

PCR tests are also used in other situations, for example for travel. Rules for travel depend on the country you are going to, so always double-check which test you need before you go and how close to your departure you need to be tested. PCR tests for travel cannot be obtained through the NHS; you must go with a private provider.

When should I have a rapid antigen (lateral flow) test?

Lateral flow tests are widely used in the community. They are fast, convenient, and easy to get hold of. Lateral flow tests work by detecting proteins from the virus. They use a swab of the nose and/or throat and are carried out on a small flat plastic device.

Lateral flow tests are very different to PCR tests and shouldn’t be used for diagnosing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. Those with symptoms should seek a PCR test instead. Lateral flow tests are designed to identify asymptomatic cases that would otherwise go unnoticed.

You should take a lateral flow test:

If you are not showing symptoms and want to keep checking for an asymptomatic infection.

Results from lateral flow tests might also be used for providing evidence of a negative test for access to events or travel.

It’s worth noting that the free tests provided by the UK Government might not be suitable as evidence for this purpose and that you might need to purchase a dedicated lateral flow event or travel test which is self-administered via a Zoom call with a clinician who can then certify the result.

When should I have an antibody test?

Antibody tests are used to detect whether your body has responded to a previous infection by looking for antibodies that your immune system has produced. Antibody tests are therefore useful for finding out if somebody has had an infection in the past.

It takes a while for your body to produce antibodies, so these tests are not suitable for diagnosing people at the time of infection – only after.

You should take an antibody test:

If you need to provide evidence of previous infection (e.g., for travel or to enter an event).

Where can I get a test?

There is now widespread access to all types of tests—PCR, lateral flow, and antibody.

How you access these tests depends on what you’re taking the test for.

For PCR tests: Via NHS 119 if you have had a positive lateral flow test or are showing symptoms. Otherwise, through a private provider for all other tests (e.g., if you need proof of a negative test for travel).

For lateral flow tests: Via Gov.uk if you want lateral flow tests for everyday COVID-19 testing or via your school, university, or employer. Otherwise, through a private provider if you need a lateral flow test for another reason such as travel.

For antibody tests: Through private providers only, such as CovidTests.co.uk.

Looking for a private COVID-19 test provider?

At CovidTests.co.uk, we stock a wide range of COVID-19 tests and other related products. All tests are UK Government-approved and are available to purchase individually or in bulk with significant cost savings.

Click here to browse the range of COVID-19 rapid antigen and antibody tests we currently have in stock or contact us if you would like to find out more about COVID-19 testing.