Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested

One of the most challenging things about coronavirus is the uncertainty: not knowing who has the infection or when it’s safe to return to normal life. Good-quality testing can help provide us with greater certainty. It’s a big part of how we’re going to defeat this disease.

As part of the government’s 5-pillar strategy for coronavirus testing, we are testing people who have coronavirus-like symptoms to see if they currently have the virus.

Who can be tested

Our priority is testing patients to inform their clinical diagnosis. In addition, we are now also testing:

  • essential workers with symptoms
  • people who live with essential workers and have symptoms

This means essential workers can find out whether they have the virus, and we can help them return to work if they test negative. Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing.

See the full list of essential workers, below.

Please note that this applies to England only. See separate guidance for information about who can get tested in:

Arrange a test

Essential workers who are self-isolating can be referred by their employer for a coronavirus test. From 24 April, they will be able to book a test directly at www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

Essential workers will be able to select either a regional test site drive-through appointment or a home test kit.

Home test kit availability will initially be limited but more will become available. There is good availability of regional test sites, so please select this option if you can.

Any employer that has any queries should contact the Department of Health and Social Care at opshub@dhsc.gov.uk.

The testing process

The test involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person themselves (self-administered) or by someone else (assisted).

The different ways you can get tested are covered below.

Regional testing sites

We are establishing a network of drive-through regional testing sites. We are aiming to open up to 50 sites by the end of April.

Watch a video explaining the process for drive-through testing:

Home testing

Home test kits can be delivered to someone’s door so they can test themselves and their family without leaving the house. Home test kit availability will be initially limited, but more will become available.

Mobile testing units

Mobile testing units are being developed. They will operate out of a regional testing site and travel to offer tests where they are needed.

Satellite centres

NHS capability is being increased by providing test kits directly to ‘satellite’ centres at places like hospitals that have a particularly urgent or significant need.

NHS facilities

Testing within an NHS facility such as a hospital is available for patients and some NHS workers.

Across all these testing methods, there is a network of couriers who collect the completed samples and deliver them safely to one of our laboratories. The swab samples are analysed at our labs and the result is communicated back to the individual.

We aim to return test results within 48 hours of a swab being taken, or within 72 hours for a home test.

List of essential workers and those prioritised for testing (England only)

  • all NHS and social care staff, including:
    • doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers
    • the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector
    • those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributors of medicines, and medical and personal protective equipment
  • essential public services staff, including:
    • prisons, probation, courts and tribunals staff, judiciary
    • religious staff
    • charities and workers delivering critical frontline services
    • those responsible for the management of the deceased
    • journalists and broadcasters covering coronavirus or providing public service broadcasting
  • public safety and national security staff, including:
    • police and support staff
    • Ministry of Defence civilians, contractors and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of critical defence and national security outputs and critical to the response to the coronavirus pandemic)
    • fire and rescue service employees (including support staff),
    • National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas
  • Transport workers, including:
    • those who keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the coronavirus response
    • those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass
  • education and childcare workers, including:
    • support and teaching staff
    • social workers
    • specialist education professionals
  • critical personnel in the production and distribution of food, drink and essential goods, including:
    • those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery
    • those critical to the provision of other essential goods, such as medical supply chain and distribution workers, including veterinary medicine
    • workers critical to the continuity of essential movement of goods
  • local and national government staff critical to the effective delivery of the coronavirus response, or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits
  • public and environmental health staff, including in government agencies and arm’s length bodies
  • frontline local authority staff, including those working with vulnerable children and adults, with victims of domestic abuse, and with the homeless and rough sleepers
  • utilities, communication and financial services staff, including:
    • staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure)
    • the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage)
    • information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the coronavirus response
    • essential staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 essential services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors

Read the privacy notice on coronavirus testing for essential workers.