UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus: What COVID-19 tests are available? Can I get one?

By June 21, 2020 No Comments

The World Health Organisation has told countries to “test, test, test” as the backbone of their coronavirus response. But what tests are available – and to whom – in the UK?

How many people have been tested?

As of 9am on Easter Monday, more than 365,000 coronavirus tests had been completed in the UK on more than 290,000 people.

Of those, more than 88,500 tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 11,300 have died.

Some people are tested more than once for clinical reasons.

How do the tests work?

The diagnostic tests – known as antigen tests – currently being conducted in the UK are done by taking a swab of the nose or throat.

These are then sent off to a laboratory to spot signs of the virus’s genetic material.

Who can get one?

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, tests have been reserved for those who end up in hospital with COVID-19 symptoms.

Testing has now also been expanded to include NHS staff – or members of their same household – who display symptoms.

This action has been taken in an attempt to get NHS staff back to work as soon as possible.

It has been suggested many NHS workers might actually be self-isolating themselves unnecessarily if they or a household member test display coronavirus-like symptoms, but do not actually have the illness.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms but are not ill enough to require hospital treatment and are not an NHS worker nor live in the same household as one, then you will not be tested.

Instead, you are advised to self-isolate for seven days or until you no longer have a high temperature.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started.

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Care home staff and prison officers are the next key workers in line to get coronavirus tests.

Where are tests available?

As well as being conducted in hospitals, coronavirus tests are now also being done at a network of drive-through centres across the UK.

These include well-known locations such as the Chessington World of Adventures theme park and the stadiums of football clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Cardiff City.

Can I not buy one online?

The government has taken steps to ensure NHS staff are first in line for the ramped up testing programme.

People searching for coronavirus tests on Amazon will be met with the message that “these tests will not be available over the counter or for purchase online from any retailers.”

An NHS workers is swabbed at a drive-in test facility on the outskirts of Manchester
Image:NHS staff are being tested at drive-through centres across the UK

Public Health England advise against the use of home testing products and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have said the supply of such products is illegal.

How many tests are being done each day?

According to latest figures, the most number of coronavirus tests conducted in a single day in the UK were the 19,116 completed on 9 April.

However, the government has promised to increase the number of daily tests to 100,000 by the end of this month.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock grilled over care home PPE
Health secretary tackled over lack of care home testing

Ministers had come under pressure to increase the number of tests when the UK’s amount of testing was compared to that of countries such as South Korea and Germany, who have both been praised for their COVID-19 response.

Are there any other types of test?

The government is also working on the development of a coronavirus antibody test, which it hopes will help meet its 100,000 a day target.

An antibody test is a blood test that doesn’t diagnose whether someone is currently actively infected with coronavirus.

Instead it determines whether they previously contracted coronavirus and now hold some immunity against it due to the presence of antibodies in their blood.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously described a reliable antibody test as a possible “game changer” in the UK’s battle against coronavirus.

A scientist tests for coronavirus at Glasgow Royal Infirmary
Image:Diagnostic tests are sent to laboratories for assessment

This is because, if people are found to have already been infected – and recovered – from coronavirus, they could safely be allowed to return to work.

It is thought unlikely that people can be re-infected with coronavirus once they have already contracted, at least in quick succession.

However, this has recently been challenged after South Korea reported 91 patients thought cleared of coronavirus had tested positive again.

When will those be available?

Last month, Public Health England said an antibody test could be available in a matter of days.

The tests, which might look similar to pregnancy tests, could be ordered on Amazon or taken at high street branches such as Boots, they said.

However, that timeframe has now been revised after the government last week admitted none of the antibody tests it was hoping to develop currently work well enough to be used.

Ministers have ordered millions of the tests, subject to their pending approval.

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