People living in England and Scotland are being offered free lateral flow Covid tests as part of efforts to keep coronavirus cases under control.
The tests should be taken twice weekly and can be requested regardless of whether or not you have any symptoms.
The rapid tests return results within 30 minutes and can be ordered to take at home, or be collected from a local pharmacy.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to order one and report the results.
Where can I get a lateral flow test?
Lateral flow tests were initially only offered to people considered most at-risk from coronavirus, 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 new “pharmacy collect” service has also been launched to provide additional access to regular testing.
Those aged 18 and over without coronavirus symptoms can able to 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.
A similar scheme will also launch in Scotland on Monday 26 April, with the free tests available to order via the government website.
Wales will not be following the testing policy, as much of the population have already been receiving regular tests.
Lateral flow testing is currently being offered to people who don’t have symptoms, in a range of different settings, including regular testing of NHS and social care staff, as well as in universities, schools, care homes and other workplaces.
In Northern Ireland, you can only book a test if you have coronavirus symptoms. This can be done online, at a drive or walk through test site, by ordering a postal self-test kit online, or by calling the free phone number 119.
How do I report the results?
Results will be displayed on the handheld device which comes with the test. If the results show one line next to the letter ‘C’, this means the test is negative, and if two lines are displayed, 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.
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 coronavirus.
If you get a positive result, you must self-isolate immediately to prevent any further transmission.
People who receive a negative test should continue to follow lockdown rules, including social distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing face coverings where required.
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.
How accurate are the tests?
Lateral flow testing is a rapid way of testing people who do not have any symptoms of coronavirus, 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.
As this type of test can deliver rapid results in 30 minutes, they are useful in identifying positive cases in the community to drive down the spread of the virus.
The tests go through a rigorous evaluation by the UK’s leading scientists, to ensure they are accurate, reliable and successfully identify positive cases. More than 120,000 positive cases have already been identified through the use of lateral flow testing, according to the government.
However, when a person has low levels of the virus in their system, the tests are less sensitive than other methods, such as PCR tests which are mainly used for people who are displaying symptoms.
When Covid levels are at their highest and people are most likely to pass on the disease, lateral flow tests can detect the vast majority of cases.
This type of rapid testing is most effective for identifying if a person is infectious at the time the test is taken, as the sensitivity level is high enough to detect the vast majority of these cases. But the test is less likely to return a positive result outside of the infectious window, meaning some cases may not always be identified.
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