Covid-19 cases are reaching record high levels across the UK, with people urged to continue to get tested on a regular basis to control the spread.
Free lateral flow tests are available to order across the country, even if you do not have any Covid-19 symptoms, to help keep track of infections.
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But how do lateral flow tests work? Here’s what you need to know and how to order one.
What are lateral flow tests?
Lateral flow testing is a rapid way of testing people who do not have any symptoms of Covid-19, but could still unknowingly be spreading the virus.
Around one in three people with coronavirus do not display any symptoms, so rolling out this method of testing will help to identify positive cases earlier and break hidden chains of transmission.
The tests provide quick results in around 30 minutes and can be used in a wide range of settings, making them ideal for widespread rollout across the country.
Where can I get a test?
Lateral flow tests were initially only offered to people considered most at-risk from Covid-19, along with those who are unable to work from home, including frontline NHS workers.
However, everyone in England can now request a free test via a home ordering service, workplace, or school testing programme, or by collecting one at a local test site.
A “pharmacy collect” service has also been launched to provide additional access to regular testing.
Those aged 18 and over without coronavirus symptoms can use the service by visiting a participating local pharmacy and collect a box of seven rapid tests to use twice a week at home.
To find a rapid lateral flow test site in your area, or a local pharmacy to collect a test to do at home, or order a test to be taken at home, simply visit the government website.
Scotlandis running a similar scheme with free lateral flow tests available to order online from the government website, and the tests are also available free of charge to everyone in Wales.
You can get a lateral flow test from a pharmacy or a local collection point, or by ordering online for home delivery.
Tests are also available for anyone over the age of 18 to order in Northern Ireland. This can be done online for free delivery to your home, by you can collect from your local pharmacy or collection point.
How does the test work?
Lateral flow is an established technology which is adapted to detect proteins (antigens) that are present when a person has Covid-19.
The best known example of a lateral flow test is the home pregnancy test kit.
The test is a hand-held device which has an absorbent pad at one end and a reading window at the other, with a strip of test paper inside that changes colour in the presence of Covid-19 proteins.
If the test shows one line next to the letter ‘C’, this means that the test is negative.
If the test displays two lines, one next to the letter ‘C’ and the letter ‘T’, this is a positive result, even if the lines are faint.
A void test will show no lines, or one line next to the letter ‘T’. In this case, you will need to retake the test with a fresh kit.
If you get a positive result, you must self-isolate immediately to prevent any further transmission.
A negative result means that an active coronavirus infection was not detected at the time the test was taken, although this does not necessarily guarantee you do not have Covid-19.
People who receive a negative test should continue to follow lockdown rules, including social distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing face coverings where required.
How to take the test
Taking a lateral flow test involves taking a sample from the back of the throat near the tonsils and from the nose, using a swab.
This swab is then dipped into an extraction solution and dripped on to the device’s paper pad which produces a reaction to provide a result.
This result will be visible on the device in 30 minutes after the sample is applied. Unlike a PCR test, the swab does not need to be sent to a lab to get the results.
How to report the results
Results of a lateral flow test will be shown on the handheld device that comes with the test.
You should report the result every time you use a test kit and as soon as possible after you get the result. Results cannot be reported after more than 24 hours and must only be submitted one result at a time.
You can report your results online via the government website, and will need the barcode on the test strip or the ID number printed under it to do so. You will also need to submit a mobile phone number to receive a text confirming your result has been reported successfully.
Alternatively, you can report your results by phone by calling the number in your test kit’s instructions.
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