Can you eat before a PCR test? How to do a Covid test, when you should take one - and how to order

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A PCR test should be taken if you have Covid symptoms, or if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive

As Covid-19 case numbers continue to rise across the UK, the government is urging people to keep testing regularly to avoid any further spread.

Daily lateral flow tests are an effective way for people who are asymptomatic to check if they have coronavirus before meeting up with others, whereas a PCR test should be taken if you do have symptoms.

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The NHS recommends getting a PCR if you have a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

You should not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before doing a PCR test (Photo: Getty Images)You should not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before doing a PCR test (Photo: Getty Images)
You should not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before doing a PCR test (Photo: Getty Images) | Getty Images

However, Omicron has been found to cause different symptoms, with a runny nose, headache, sneezing and a sore throat among the most common. If you experience any of these, it is also worth taking a test.

But what do rules say about eating or drinking before taking a PCR? Here’s what you need to know.

Can you eat or drink before a PCR test?

Government guidance states that you should not eat or drink anything for at least 30 minutes before doing your PCR test.

If you do, this could risk spoiling the test.

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Before taking it, you should register the test kit online so you can receive your results.

To do this you will need a mobile phone number, an NHS number, your postcode, a 13-character Royal Mail barcode from the prepaid return label, and an 11-character test kit barcode.

Once this is done, make sure you wash your hands soap, or use a hand sanitiser, before doing the test. You should also blow your nose and wash your hands again.

A sample needs to be taken from both your nose and throat when doing a PCR test.

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Firstly, run the swab over your tonsils (or where they would have been), and try to avoid touching your teeth, tongue or gums with the swab as you do so.

Afterwards, put the same swab inside your nose - about 2.5cm up, or until you feel some resistance - and roll it around making 10 complete circles.

Taking a sample may be uncomfortable and make you gag, but it should not hurt.

Put the swab facing down into the plastic tube, snap off the stick end of the swab, and securely screw on the lid.

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Place this in the bag provided with the absorbent pad, put it in the return box and take a photo or note of the barcode so you can track the delivery before posting.

How do I order a PCR test?

You can order a PCR test to be sent to your home if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

You can also order a test if:

  • you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive and you must self-isolate
  • you’ve been asked to get a test by a local council or someone from NHS Test and Trace
  • a GP or other health professional has asked you to get a test
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project
  • you’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result
  • you’ve received an unclear result and were told to get a second test
  • you need to get a test for someone you live with who has symptoms
  • you’re in the National Tactical Response Group

If you meet any of these criteria, a test can be ordered online for free via the government website.

You should not use this service if you have had a positive PCR test result in the last 90 days, unless you get any new Covid-19 symptoms.

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Alternatively, you can book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site. This can also be done on the government website, or by calling 119.

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