How the Government's mass Covid testing plan will work

Community testing is the second pillar of the government's coronavirus strategy, alongside vaccinations which were rolled out on Dec 8. Here is everything you need to know about where to get a test, and what the Government mass testing plan means for you.  What are my options for getting a Covid-19 test in the UK? People with coronavirus symptoms should be tested as soon as possible and stay at home. The government urges people with symptoms not to delay being tested: "You need to get the test done in the first five days of having symptoms." The NHS offers a free test to check if people have the virus. "You can have a test (swab test) to check if you have coronavirus now. You can choose to take the test at a test site near you today and get your result tomorrow [or] with a home test kit," the NHS explains on its website. People must be cautious and self-isolate if they suspect they have coronavirus: "If you are getting a test because you have symptoms, you and anyone you live with must stay at home (self-isolate) until you get your result. "Anyone in your support bubble must also self-isolate until you get your result." What is the Government mass testing plan? Community testing will be available for all local authorities in Tier 3 to apply for and will be distributed based on the their application, their infection rate and the length of time they have been in Tier 3, the Government has announced. Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed the testing program brought the case rate down by three quarters in Liverpool, where the programme was piloted, after testing 300,000 people with and without symptoms. However, Dr Angela Raffle, a public health consultant, lecturer and member of the National Screening Committee, said the Government was wrong to accredit the fall in infection rates in Liverpool to the mass testing scheme, and claimed the trial results of lateral flow tests had been "falsely represented". Dr Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very concerning to me that, with these lateral flow tests, the evidence on how they perform in the field has actually been kept hidden and falsely represented by the Government. Dr Raffle said that scientists had still not received the evaluation report for the Liverpool testing programme, and the findings from the lateral flow testing there showed "30 per cent of tests that were 'very infectious' were missed." She added that these findings had been "buried" in a community guide for testing. Her comments come amid concern in some parts of the care home sector over the use of lateral flow tests, with homes in Greater Manchester urged not to use them to allow visits. At a press briefing, General Sir Gordon Messenger, the head of operations for the Community Testing Program, said military assistance on the scale seen in Liverpool cannot be replicated across the country. When asked how many will be tested of the 23 million people entering Tier 3 after December 2, General Messenger said planning was still underway and local authorities were at varying levels of preparedness. The Prime Minister had previously suggested that regions which engage in mass testing will have a "much greater chance of easing the rules.” Mr Johnson told Ministers: “Together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic armed forces, we will now launch a major community testing program offering all local authorities in Tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing. “The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative." Earlier last month Mr Hancock said a mass testing program piloted in Liverpool will be extended to 67 local authorities, largely in the north of England, with universities in areas with the highest rates to be prioritised. Read more: Should I send my child to school with a cold? What happened to mass testing in Liverpool? The entire population of Liverpool was offered regular coronavirus testing from November 6 with 2,000 members of the armed forces providing logistical assistance. Residents received results within 20 to 90 minutes of taking a test. In a press conference on November 16, Dr Susan Hopkins said nearly 100,000 people had been tested with lateral flow devices. But Dr Angela Raffle has said the claims made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health that there had been a three-quarters drop in Liverpool because of mass testing were "completely false."  On the success of the Liverpool mass testing scheme, she added: "The infection rate in Liverpool has come down no quicker than in many other places that haven't got mass testing and we haven't yet seen a proper evaluation report from Liverpool." The number of cases in the seven days prior to November 23 was 40 per cent lower than the week before, according to Liverpool City Council. Around 27 pe

How the Government's mass Covid testing plan will work

Community testing is the second pillar of the government's coronavirus strategy, alongside vaccinations which were rolled out on Dec 8.

Here is everything you need to know about where to get a test, and what the Government mass testing plan means for you. 

What are my options for getting a Covid-19 test in the UK?

People with coronavirus symptoms should be tested as soon as possible and stay at home.

The government urges people with symptoms not to delay being tested: "You need to get the test done in the first five days of having symptoms."

The NHS offers a free test to check if people have the virus.

"You can have a test (swab test) to check if you have coronavirus now. You can choose to take the test at a test site near you today and get your result tomorrow [or] with a home test kit," the NHS explains on its website.

People must be cautious and self-isolate if they suspect they have coronavirus: "If you are getting a test because you have symptoms, you and anyone you live with must stay at home (self-isolate) until you get your result.

"Anyone in your support bubble must also self-isolate until you get your result."

What is the Government mass testing plan?

Community testing will be available for all local authorities in Tier 3 to apply for and will be distributed based on the their application, their infection rate and the length of time they have been in Tier 3, the Government has announced.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed the testing program brought the case rate down by three quarters in Liverpool, where the programme was piloted, after testing 300,000 people with and without symptoms.

However, Dr Angela Raffle, a public health consultant, lecturer and member of the National Screening Committee, said the Government was wrong to accredit the fall in infection rates in Liverpool to the mass testing scheme, and claimed the trial results of lateral flow tests had been "falsely represented".

Dr Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very concerning to me that, with these lateral flow tests, the evidence on how they perform in the field has actually been kept hidden and falsely represented by the Government.

Dr Raffle said that scientists had still not received the evaluation report for the Liverpool testing programme, and the findings from the lateral flow testing there showed "30 per cent of tests that were 'very infectious' were missed." She added that these findings had been "buried" in a community guide for testing.

Her comments come amid concern in some parts of the care home sector over the use of lateral flow tests, with homes in Greater Manchester urged not to use them to allow visits.

At a press briefing, General Sir Gordon Messenger, the head of operations for the Community Testing Program, said military assistance on the scale seen in Liverpool cannot be replicated across the country.

When asked how many will be tested of the 23 million people entering Tier 3 after December 2, General Messenger said planning was still underway and local authorities were at varying levels of preparedness.

The Prime Minister had previously suggested that regions which engage in mass testing will have a "much greater chance of easing the rules.”

Mr Johnson told Ministers: “Together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic armed forces, we will now launch a major community testing program offering all local authorities in Tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing.

“The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative."

Earlier last month Mr Hancock said a mass testing program piloted in Liverpool will be extended to 67 local authorities, largely in the north of England, with universities in areas with the highest rates to be prioritised.

Read more: Should I send my child to school with a cold?

What happened to mass testing in Liverpool?

The entire population of Liverpool was offered regular coronavirus testing from November 6 with 2,000 members of the armed forces providing logistical assistance.

Residents received results within 20 to 90 minutes of taking a test.

In a press conference on November 16, Dr Susan Hopkins said nearly 100,000 people had been tested with lateral flow devices.

But Dr Angela Raffle has said the claims made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health that there had been a three-quarters drop in Liverpool because of mass testing were "completely false." 

On the success of the Liverpool mass testing scheme, she added: "The infection rate in Liverpool has come down no quicker than in many other places that haven't got mass testing and we haven't yet seen a proper evaluation report from Liverpool."

The number of cases in the seven days prior to November 23 was 40 per cent lower than the week before, according to Liverpool City Council.

Around 27 per cent of those cases confirmed were detected using lateral flow testing kits.

How do I book an NHS Covid-19 test?

The NHS says that from day one to day four of showing symptoms people are able to be tested at a site or at home. 

"If you're ordering a home test kit on day four, do it by 3pm. On day five, you need to go to a test site. It's too late to order a home test kit," the NHS explains.

It says that people are able to order tests for others in their household: "If other people you live with have symptoms, you can order tests for up to three of them.

"If you're applying for a test for someone else, and the person is aged 13 or over, check they're happy for you to get a test for them."

Apply online at www.gov.uk or phone 119 if you have problems using the internet.

How long does the test result take?

A text or email will be sent when results are ready, with most people receiving results the day after the test.

"Some results might take longer, but you should get them in 72 hours," the NHS says.

"There are three types of results you can get: negative; positive; and unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive.

"If you do not get your result, call the coronavirus testing contact centre on 119 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 0300 303 2713 (Scotland). The contact centre is open from 7am to 11pm."

Can students get a test to travel home for Christmas?

As of November 30, university students in the UK will be able to get tested for coronavirus before going home for the Christmas holidays. 

Students have been asked to take two tests, three days apart, in order to produce a more accurate result. Should they test negative, many will leave university for the holidays during the 'travel corridor' which will begin December 3.  

Temporary testing sites have been set up at university campuses across the country to ensure that this mass testing scheme is carried out. However, the tests are voluntary and the scheme is not available at all UK universities. 

What are antibody tests, and can I get one in the UK?

An antibody test is a blood test that checks if someone has had coronavirus. Free antibody testing is not yet widely available.

"It's currently offered to NHS and care staff, as well as some hospital patients and care home residents," according to the NHS.

Here's what the NHS says about the test:

  • An antibody test checks for antibodies in your blood
  • Your body makes antibodies when you get an infection. They help fight the infection
  • If you have coronavirus antibodies in your blood, it's likely you’ve had the virus before
  • It's not known if having antibodies stops you getting the virus again

​In late July, The Telegraph reported that the hunt for a "game-changing" antibody test could be over after a version backed by the UK Government passed its first major trials with flying colours.

Are home antibody tests reliable?

The NHS said: "Home antibody test kits are not currently recommended as it has not been confirmed if they're safe and reliable yet. You can pay for a test to be done at a private clinic, if you want to." 

I want to go abroad - can I get a Covid-19 test to avoid quarantine?

Under current government rules travellers entering into the UK from any country listed on the quarantine list must self-isolate for 14 days. 

This applies to travellers who have had and recovered from coronavirus and also applies to travellers who have tested negative for Covid-19 and do not have any symptoms. 

Read more:  How to book a Covid test for travelling abroad

Can I test positive for Covid-19 before experiencing any symptoms?

Studies have highlighted the significance of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers. 

Research carried out by Imperial College London, Ipsos MORI and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust found that 81 per cent of people testing positive reported no symptoms on the day of the test or the previous week. 

Is it possible to get a false positive Covid-19 test result?

The accuracy of coronavirus tests has been called into question in recent months.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, cited evidence compiled by the University of Bristol which found that Covid-19 swab tests produced false negative rates of between 2 per cent and 29 per cent. 

However, the accuracy of testing depends on a range of factors including the type of test being used.

What are the new Rapid tests, and how can I get one?  

The two new tests announced by the Government earlier this month include DNA tests and swab tests. Some 5,000 “Nudgebox” machines, supplied by a biotech called DnaNudge, will provide 5.8 million tests, the department said.  

The machines, already in use in eight London hospitals, analyse the DNA in nose swabs and can process up to 15 tests on the spot each day, giving a result in up to 90 minutes. They can be operated outside a laboratory and do not require staff to undergo specialist training. More machines have since been scheduled to roll out across hospitals since September.  

The DnaNudge has now made the test available to consumers with the launch of a low-cost "Bubble Test". These new tests give purchasers the ability to test up to 10 people at a time using one DnaNudge testing cartridge. As of this week, the DnaNudge test is available from £100 per cartridge (£10 per person) and can be purchased online or via appointment from the flagship store in London's Covent Garden. More information can be found here.

The second new test, known as the LamPORE test will be able to process swab and saliva samples to detect the presence of Covid-19 in 60 to 90 minutes. The new test, developed by Oxford Nanopore which spun out of Oxford University, has the same sensitivity as the widely-used PCR swab test but can process swabs outside specialist laboratories.   

A palm-sized machine will process up to 2,000 tests a day while the larger desktop machine will be able to analyse up to 15,000 tests.

The LamPORE test is not currently available to purchase over the counter or online, but you may be tested using one through the Government’s Test and Trace scheme.