We use cookies to give you the best experience. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our policy. Read more about how we use cookies and find out how you can change your browser's cookie settings.
Skip to content
Please donate

Test and Trace

The NHS Test and Trace service launched on Thursday 28 May and forms part of the Government’s strategy to reduce the spread of coronavirus and help us to return to normal. 


What is the test and trace service?

From 28 May, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to talk through their recent interactions. This could include places that they’ve visited or people they’ve been in direct contact with in the few days just before and after they first got symptoms. 

These people identified will then be contacted by the service and should self-isolate for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms. The aim is to stop the virus being passed on from person to person and prevent a bigger outbreak.


How do I get a test for coronavirus?

Everyone over the age of 5 who develops symptoms of coronavirus is now able to access a test. 

Some people can get tested even if they don’t have symptoms of coronavirus. These are:

  • Social care staff.
  • Care home residents and people being discharged from hospital into care homes.

You should book a test as soon as you develop symptoms as it needs to happen within the first 5 days and is most effective in the first three daysYou can book a test through the  Government online portal. For those unable to access the internet call 119.

There are different ways to get a test:

  • You can be tested at a drive-in testing centre. To be tested in this way you will need to be able to drive by car to the appointment.
  • You can visit a walk-in testing centre.
  • You can also order a home testing kit, which will be delivered to your door so you don’t need to leave your house. If you order a home testing kit, you will need to do the swab test and return it within 48 hours. The test will come with instructions on how to return it. If you've been advised to use a priority postbox to return your test, you can find your nearest here

For postal tests, the test and trace service will ask if they can run a check to verify your address. The check is not the same as a credit check and will not affect your credit score. If you decline you may be told you are unable to receive a test by post, and to apply for a drive-in test instead. Some people may not pass these checks for various reasons, and again may be advised to apply for a drive-in test instead. If you have any concerns you can call 119 for support. 

In some areas there may not be enough tests available so even if you are eligible you may be unable to get one. People in hospital and essential workers, including NHS and social care staff, will be prioritised for tests. More tests are made available every hour on the website so check back later if you have been unable to book one. 

The current test available looks for the presence of coronavirus and is taken in two samples – one from the back of your throat and one from inside your nose. At the drive-through testing sites, you will remain in your car while a doctor or nurses takes this from you.  If you are doing the test yourself at home, take a look at  this video  to see how to take the swab.

You will be notified of the test results a few days later.

You are able to apply for a test on behalf of someone else, as long as they are over 13 and you have their permission to do so. You can order 4 coronavirus tests at a time.

If you need help booking a test or have any questions about your test results you can call 119 from 7am to 11pm. 


How does it work?

The NHS Test and Trace service works by alerting people who may have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus and asking them to self-isolate for 14 days to reduce the risk of them passing it on to anyone else. They can also be tested quickly if they develop symptoms. If the test is positive then they in turn will be contacted to ask about any interactions they may have had before they self-isolated.  

This will help stop the spread of the virus and track new infections.


What counts as a ‘close contact’?

Close contact includes:

  • having face to face contact (at around 1 metre or less)
  • spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
  • travelling with someone in a car or small vehicle. 

You will also be asked about where you work or places you may have visited where you came into contact with other people, such as GP surgeries or schools. 


What do I need to do if I get coronavirus symptoms?

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you should self-isolate for at least 7 days  from the start of your symptoms and order a test as soon as possible by visiting the NHS website or calling 119. 

Symptoms of coronavirus include: 

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of or change in your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia).

The test involves taking a swab of the nose and back of the throat. You can do the test yourself, or someone else can do it for you.

You can get tested by visiting a regional testing site or ordering a home test to be done at home.

The NHS will try to get your test results back to you within 48 hours, although it may sometimes take longer. While you are waiting for your test result, it is important that you and your household self-isolate.


If your test is negative

If your test comes back negative then you are at low risk of having coronavirus. Other members of your household or support bubble, if applicable, will no longer need to self-isolate and if you feel well you can also stop self-isolating. However, if you still feel unwell it is better to stay inside as you may have another virus, such as a cold or the flu, so you should try not to be around other people.


If you have a positive coronavirus test

If you test positive for coronavirus, you will need to complete the rest of your 7-day self-isolation, unless you continue to have a high temperature in which case you should continue to self-isolate until this returns to normal. 

If you live with other people, all other household members and those in your support bubble if you have one, must stay at home for 14 days from when you started having symptoms, unless they also develop symptoms of coronavirus. If they develop symptoms of coronavirus, then they should also book a test right away. If the results come back positive then they should isolate for 7 days from when they first started having symptoms, unless they continue to have a high temperature. If the results come back negative then they must continue the isolation of 14 days with the rest of the household.


Contact tracing

People who have tested positive will be contacted by ‘contact tracers’ from the NHS Test and Trace service by text message, email or phone call and asked to share details of your recent interactions, including people you have recently had direct contact with. This will either be done online via a secure website or you will speak to a member of the NHS Test and Trace team. 

The contact tracers will be able to guide you through this process and will let you know what information is helpful. They will also be able to advise you on what you need to do next and answer any questions you might have about the process. 

You should respond as soon as possible so the NHS can identify anyone you have been in close contact with who may need to self-isolate. The more quickly people can be notified and asked to self-isolate, the more effective the system will be at preventing a bigger outbreak. 

The NHS Test and Trace service will not disclose your identity to anyone, but you may want to prepare others by letting them know you have tested positive. This is completely your choice and you do not need to let anyone else know your results.

If you have informed people outside your household of any symptoms or tests then they only need to self-isolate once they have been contacted by the test and trace service. The service will only contact people they think are at risk of having been infected.


Why am I being asked to provide other people’s information?

The test and trace system works best when it can act fast to alert anyone who may have been infected and ask them to self-isolate, hopefully before they have the chance to pass the virus on to anyone else. 

The more quickly tracers can identify and contact the right people, the better the chance of stopping a bigger outbreak and preventing more people from becoming ill. Any information you can provide that helps them to do this is very valuable. 

The information you do share will be confidential and used solely by the NHS Test and Trace service to contain the virus. No one you provide as a contact will know who has provided the service with their information.


What do I need to do if I am told to self-isolate by the test and trace service?

You will be asked to begin a self-isolation period of 14 days, starting from the date at which you last had contact with the infected person. 

It’s important that you do self-isolate, even if you don’t have symptoms, to remove the risk of spreading the virus unknowingly. 

Self-isolation means that you should not leave your home for any reason and, if you live with other people you should isolate from them at home as much as practically possible. You can find more information on self-isolation and what it means here.

Others in your household or support bubble do not need to self-isolate straight away. They can continue as normal unless you or anyone else in the household or support bubble develops symptoms at which point they would also need to self-isolate for 14 days. 

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus you should book a test straight away. If your test comes back positive you should remain inside for at least 7 days and you will be contacted by the test and trace service to ask who you have been in contact with. 

If your test comes back negative you should still complete the 14-day period of isolation. This is because you could still go on to develop symptoms after the date of the test.  


How will I be contacted if I have been in contact with someone who has tested positive?

If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you will be contacted by the NHS test and track service by text message, email or phone. They will not disclose the identity of the person you have come in contact with and you will not be asked to provide details of people you have been in contact with, as you have not tested positive or developed symptoms at this stage. You will be provided with advice and guidance on how to self-isolate and what symptoms you should look out for.


I’m worried about scams related to the NHS test and trace service, what should I look out for?

Unfortunately, we have heard about some scams related to the test and trace service, below is some information to help you to identify a scam and stay safe.

Contact tracers will:

  • Call you from 0300 013 5000
  • Send text messages from 'NHStracing'
  • Ask for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode
  • Ask if you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms
  • Provide advice on what you must do
  • Ask you to provide the name, telephone number and/or email address of anyone you have had close contact with in the 2 days prior to your symptoms starting.

Contact tracers WILL NOT:

  • Ask you to dial a premium rate number (e.g. those starting with 09 or 087)
  • Ask you to make any payments or purchases
  • Ask for any details about your bank account
  • Ask for any log in details/passwords/pins or those of your contacts
  • Provide medical advice on treatment of potential coronavirus symptoms
  • Ask you to access any website that does not belong to the government or NHS
  • Ask you to download any software to your PC or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet to anyone else

If you get a call about testing positive for coronavirus but you haven’t taken a test in the past few days then the call is not genuine.

Genuine communications through email or text message will not ask you for personal information upfront they will request you go to the following website: https://contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk. This is the only website a legitimate message will ask you to visit. You will be provided with a unique ID number to input into the website which is where you may need to provide more information, including date of birth, address, contact details of those you were in touch with and recent activities. If you’re unsure whether a message is genuine it may be best to enter the weblink yourself rather than click on it in the communication you receive.

If you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive and have not tested positive yourself then you will not be asked to pass on the details of anyone you’ve been in contact with, so if you are asked for that information, it could indicate a fraudulent call.

If you'e concerned about the identity of any contact you receive, you should not feel under pressure to provide information.

 If you think that you have been subject to a scam you should contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, and if there are financial implications you should let your bank know as soon as possible.


Where can I get support if I need to self-isolate?

Speak to a family member, friend, trusted neighbour or local community support group about helping you with essential supplies such as food and medicine. These should be left on the doorstep for you to collect. If you need help putting your shopping away, you should wait in another room while that’s happening. 

If these options aren't appropriate, you can use the following options for support:

  • Your local Age UK may be able to support you or be aware of local provisions being made in your area. You can find their contact details here by entering your postcode.
  • Community aid groups have been created in response to the coronavirus and offer help to those in need in the community. Most of these can be accessed via social media such as Facebook or Twitter
  • Your local council may be able to support you or signpost to those who can. You can find your council here
  • The NHS Volunteers Responder scheme is able to support people who are self-isolating through delivering supplies including medication and food, check in and chat phone calls. You can be referred by a health care professional or you can self-refer by calling 0808 196 3646, 8AM- 8PM.

If you feel worried, scared or sad about having to stay at home and away from your loved ones, take a look at our staying safe and well at home advice. 


What if I live with a vulnerable person?

If you live with someone who is clinically vulnerable (for example if they are aged over 70 or have underlying health conditions) or clinically extremely vulnerable (and have been advised to shield), you may wish to arrange for them to move out of your home to stay with friends or family for the duration of your home isolation period. If this is not possible you should stay away from them as much as possible and practice good hand-washing and hygiene measures. 


I have already tested positive for coronavirus, do I still need to self-isolate?

Yes. We don’t know for sure yet if everyone who’s had coronavirus is now immune to the disease or how long any immunity lasts, so you should still self-isolate for 14 days if you are notified that you have been in close contact with someone who has had a positive test. 


If I’m not able to work from home but have to self-isolate, what do I do?

Your employer should support you if you need to stay at home and self-isolate. They are receiving support from the Government to ensure any self-isolating employee receives sick pay if working from home isn’t possible, or give you the option of using annual leave days if you’d prefer. The test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that you have been advised to self-isolate. 


What is the NHS coronavirus app and when will it be available?

An app which forms part of the test and trace service is currently being developed. For those that download the app, it works automatically to identify people who may have been exposed to someone who’s had a positive coronavirus test. It will also aid the process of identifying people you don’t know but may have had close contact with. It will work alongside manual contact tracing methods. 

It is currently being trialed in the Isle of Wight and will be launched more widely in the coming weeks. 

It is currently not known when the app will be available.

Share this page

Last updated: Jul 02 2020

Become part of our story

Sign up today

Back to top