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Test and Trace

The NHS Test and Trace service 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?

The NHS Test and Trace service aims to test anyone with coronavirus symptoms and, if the test is positive, contact those that have recently come into close contact with that person.

Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will need to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of their symptoms. They will also 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 may be contacted by the service and provided with advice on what they need to do in order to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. This information may differ depending on whether you have been vaccinated or not. 

How do I get a test for coronavirus?

PCR tests

If you have symptoms or are in one of the groups that can get a test without symptoms, there are several ways you can get a free PCR test. You can get one by:

It doesn't matter how you book your test – they're all carried out by the NHS and you get the results the same way. 

If you're booking a test because you have symptoms then you and everyone in your household need to self-isolate until you get your test results back.

There are different ways to get tested:

  • 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 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 won't affect your credit score. If you decline or don't pass these checks for whatever reason, you may be told you're unable to receive a test by post, and to apply for a drive-in test instead.  

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

Lateral flow tests

You may already have access to these through your employer or community testing programme. There are other options available, including home delivery, collection at testing sites and collection at pharmacies. For more information or to order tests, visit the Government website or call 119.

You're advised to use lateral flow tests twice a week, whether or not you have symptoms, as some people who have coronavirus don't show symptoms.

What are the different types of test?

There are currently 2 types of test that are widely available to detect coronavirus.

PCR test: This is the most accurate test available, but the results take some time as they need to be sent to a laboratory. You should book one of these tests if you have symptoms of coronavirus or have had a positive lateral flow test.

Lateral flow test (rapid test): These tests are being used more widely in work settings and other community-based settings as they provide results within 30 minutes and don’t need to be sent to a laboratory. They’re intended to identify those without symptoms. They’re not as accurate as a PCR test which is why if you get a positive result from one you should also book a PCR test as soon as possible.

How long do I need to isolate for?

Following a positive lateral flow or PCR test you should isolate for 10 days from the day you first experienced symptoms or from the day you got your positive test result if you didn't have symptoms. 

If you get two negative lateral flow test results on days 5 and 6 of your isolation, you can stop isolating. These tests must be 24 hours apart. 

Do I still need to isolate if I'm vaccinated?

While the vaccine does reduce your chances of catching coronavirus and getting severely ill, it's possible to still get coronavirus following two doses of the vaccine. So, if you get symptoms of coronavirus or a positive test then you must still isolate for 10 days from the start of the symptoms or the day of the test.

There are, however, some scenarios where if you’ve had two doses of the vaccine you do not need to self-isolate:

Firstly, if you've had two doses of coronavirus vaccine for at least a fortnight, you're no longer required to self-isolate if you're identified as a close contact of a positive case. So, if someone in your household tests positive, or if you're contacted by Test and Trace or notified by the NHS Covid-19 app, you don't need to isolate but should take a lateral flow test every day for 5 days as well as take other precautions, such as wearing a face covering in busy indoor places and limiting contact with others. 

Secondly, there are also some circumstances relating to travel where you may not need to self-isolate if you've been double vaccinated. For travel advice, see here.

If you're not vaccinated or aren't yet fully vaccinated (you're deemed fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your second dose), then you need to self-isolate for 10 days from the day you had contact with the person who has tested positive. This includes anyone in your household or if you're advised to by the Test and Trace service or NHS Covid-19 app. 

Do I need to get a coronavirus test?

If you develop coronavirus symptoms, you should order a PCR test as soon as possible.

The symptoms to look out for include:

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

The NHS aims to have your test results back within 48 hours, but it can take longer. While you wait to get your results, you should self-isolate.

Some people can also get tested even if they don't have any symptoms, such as:

  • social care staff
  • care home residents and those being discharged from hospital into a care home
  • people who have been told to get tested before going into hospital, for example, if they're having surgery
  • those who have been advised to by the NHS Test and Trace Service. 

Everyone in England should have access to free lateral flow tests and is advised to test twice a week.

The government has recently also advised taking rapid lateral flow tests before spending time in crowded spaces or visiting people who are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus. For instance, you might choose to take a test before:

  • heading to a shopping centre at a busy time
  • attending a social event in an enclosed space, such as a pub or restaurant
  • spending time with a friend or relative who has a serious health condition.

If you have been identified as a close contact of someone with coronavirus you should take a lateral flow test every day for 5 days - even if you're fully vaccinated. If you test positive too, you should self-isolate immediately.  

What happens if I have a positive coronavirus test?

A positive PCR test

If you test positive for coronavirus using a PCR test then you need to self-isolate for 10 days from the start of your symptoms, or the day of your test.

After 10 days, you can stop self-isolating – unless you still have a high temperature, in which case you should carry on self-isolating until it's back to normal. You do not need to carry on self-isolating after 10 days if you still have a cough or a change or loss of your sense of taste or smell, as these symptoms may last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

A positive lateral flow test

If you get a positive result from a lateral flow test then you should self-isolate. You no longer have to confirm this result with a PCR test.

What happens if I have a negative coronavirus test?

If your test comes back negative, then you're unlikely to have coronavirus, and if you feel well you can also stop self-isolating.

However, if you still feel unwell it's 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 result from a lateral flow test, which is followed up by a negative PCR test then you can stop self-isolation as long as this was taken within 2 days of the lateral flow test.

What do I need to do if I'm told to self-isolate by the Test and Trace service?

If you're not vaccinated, you might be asked to isolate by the Test and Trace service following contact with someone that's tested positive for coronavirus. You'll be asked to begin a self-isolation period of 10 days, starting from the date at which you last had contact with the infected person. 

It’s important that you self-isolate, even if you don’t have symptoms, to remove the risk of spreading the virus. It is against the law to not self-isolate when you are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace. You could receive a fine of up to £10,000.

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 that means here.

Others in your household don't 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 10 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 10 days from the start of your symptoms. You'll be contacted by the Test and Trace service to ask who you've been in contact with. 

If your test comes back negative, you should still complete the initial 10-day period of isolation. This is because you could still go on to develop symptoms after the date of the test.  

You can find out more about self-isolating here.

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

If you've been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you'll be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service by text message, email or phone.

They won't disclose the identity of the person you've come in contact with.

You won't be asked to provide details of people you have been in contact with, as you haven't tested positive or developed symptoms at this stage. You'll be provided with advice and guidance on how to self-isolate and what symptoms you should look out for.

What is the NHS Covid-19 app?

The NHS have launched an app that lets you know if you've been exposed to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. You can download it for free on your phone. 

It helps identify those that you don't know but have been in close contact with – for example, someone you sat close to on the bus. It also lets you know about the risk level in your area and allows you to book a test if you develop symptoms.

If you don't have the app or can't download it, venues and businesses should continue to have a manual method to collect your details. 

You can find out more about the app here

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 help you find local provision being made in your area. You can find their contact details here by entering your postcode.
  • Community aid groups offer help to those in need in the community. Most of these can be accessed via social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • Your local council may be able to support you or direct you to those who can. You can find your council here
  • The NHS Volunteers Responder scheme supports people who are self-isolating through delivering supplies including medication and food, checking in with people, and providing phone calls. You can be referred to them by a health care professional or you can self-refer by calling 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 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 (those who were 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 you can and practice good handwashing and hygiene measures. 

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

Yes.It's possible to get coronavirus more than once, so if you get symptoms you should still isolate and book a PCR test even if you've had coronavirus before. If the test is positive, you must follow the guidance. 

However, it's been advised that you should avoid taking a PCR test within 90 days of having coronavirus as you may still test positive. In this instance, only book a PCR test if you have symptoms. 

I have another question about Test and Trace

What does a coronavirus test involve?

PCR test

This tests 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'll remain in your car while a doctor or nurse takes this from you. You may also be asked to carry out the test yourself – but you'll be given clear instructions and there will be people on hand to help you. If you're 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.

Lateral flow test (rapid test)

Lateral flow tests also include taking a swab from your nose and throat – but if you’re administering one yourself, there are other steps you need to take in order to get your results. Instructions will be included in the tests you receive, but this video can help.

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

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What is contact tracing and how does it work?

If you've tested positive for coronavirus, you may 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've had direct contact with in the last 48 hours. This will either be done online via a secure website or by speaking with a member of the NHS Test and Trace team. 

The contact tracers will 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. If the contact tracers are unable to get hold of you over the course of 24 hours, then they may pass the case to the local authority to follow up. The local authority will then get in touch by phone or text but may visit you at home to ask about your contacts.

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

'Close contact' includes:

  • face to face contact (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'll also be asked about who you live with, where you work, and places you've visited where you came into contact with others.

It's important that you're honest about who you've been in close contact with – it's against the law to lie about who you've spent time with.

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.

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Can everyone access free testing and treatment for coronavirus?

Some people pay for certain treatments provided by the NHS, but testing and treatment for coronavirus are both exempt from charging. 

Migrants who are classed as ‘overseas visitors’, undocumented migrants and those with precarious immigration status will not be charged for the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus. This is regardless of whether you test positively or negatively for coronavirus.  

The Government has also said that NHS trusts have been advised that no immigration checks are required for overseas visitors that are known to be undergoing testing or treatment for COVID-19.

Information in community languages

You can find information on the charging exemption translated into community languages at the top of this page.  

Doctors of the World have translated wider guidance which can be found here.

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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 contact 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 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.

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I'm worried about Test and Trace scams. What can I do?

Unfortunately, there are 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 or 0300 123 7790.
  • Send text messages from 'NHS'.
  • 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 of your log in details/passwords/pins or those of your contacts.
  • Provide medical advice on treatment of potential coronavirus symptoms.
  • Disclose any of your personal or medical information to contacts.
  • 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 ask you to go to the following website: 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 URL 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're 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. If there are financial implications, you should let your bank know as soon as possible.

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I'm unable to work from home but have been told I need to self-isolate. What should I do?

Your employer should support you if you need to stay at home and self-isolate. Employers are receiving support from the Government to ensure any self-isolating employee receives sick pay if working from home isn’t possible for them. If you prefer, they should give you the option of using annual leave days.

The Test and Trace service provides a notification that can be used as evidence that you have been advised to self-isolate. If you need a note for your employer you can get one here.

If you can't go to work because you're self-isolating and this means you won't earn any money, you may be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Tracee Support Programme Scheme. To be eligible you must:

  • have been asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service
  • be employed or self-employed
  • be unable to work from home and losing income as a result
  • be claiming at least one of the following benefits:
    • Universal Credit
    • Working Tax Credits
    • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
    • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
    • Income Support
    • Pension Credit
    • Housing Benefit

If you're on a low income and will face financial difficulty from self-isolating, then you may be entitled to a £500 discretionary payment if you're not receiving these benefits but the criteria apply to you.

To apply for either of these support payments you should contact your local authority. You will need a notification from the NHS Test and Trace telling you to self-isolate to apply.

If you've been told by the NHS Test and Trace app to self-isolate because you have been in close contact with someone with a positive test, but you haven’t been contacted by the Test and Trace service, then you cannot currently apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment.

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Last updated: Jan 17 2022

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