Different Covid tests explained

June 5, 2021

England is looking to trial daily testing of contacts of people infected. The hope is that daily testing will reduce the need for people to self-isolate. People who test positive for coronavirus and their close contacts are currently required to isolate for 10 days unnecessarily. The trial will include lateral flow and PCR tests that people can do themselves at home.

The UK has steadily ramped up its testing capacity since the start of the pandemic. British labs can now process more than 650,000 coronavirus tests a day, a 40% rise from six months ago. Mass testing combined with an effective vaccination program is critical in preventing new infections, especially as social distancing rules begin to be scaled back.

Coronavirus tests

Coronavirus can spread rapidly. However, testing enables people to self-isolate and reduce any risk of spreading the infection. Testing also provides the government with accurate data on infection rates and the country-wide spread of the virus.

Day 2 and 8 tests

Coronavirus testing is compulsory for international travel. Everyone entering the UK must quarantine for ten days and take day 2 and 8 Covid tests during the quarantining period. The day 2 test must be performed on or before day 2 of quarantine, with the day of arrival in England considered day zero. This will detect any harmful variants of the virus. If the result is positive then you and your household will need to quarantine until day 13. If the test comes back negative, then you will be required to test again on day 8 of quarantine.

PCR tests

A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test takes a swab of your throat and/or nose. The sample is then sent to a laboratory and tested for the virus’s genetic material called RNA. It will confirm whether you have the virus. No coronavirus test is 100% accurate. Each test varies in its levels of sensitivity and how it can detect coronavirus correctly. However, the PCR test is the standard test used by the NHS and most frequently requested by foreign governments.

LAMP tests

A LAMP test or loop-mediated isothermal amplification test is a molecular test that looks for RNA in a patient’s sample. It uses a swab test, but it isn’t processed in a laboratory. LAMP tests can give a result in just 90 minutes. However, these types of tests are not as accurate as PCR tests and can produce false negatives.

Lateral flow antigen tests

Antigen tests or lateral flow tests take a swab of your nose or throat. The test results confirm whether you have coronavirus. For an antigen test, the sample doesn’t need testing in a laboratory, so the results are fast and usually available within 30 minutes. However, these types of tests can miss the presence of the virus and give a false negative.

Antibody tests

Antibody tests use a blood sample to determine if you’ve previously had the virus and developed antibodies. When a person has coronavirus, their body produces antibodies in response to defend itself against the virus. If you are then in contact with the virus again, your body is prepared to fight it. Antibodies develop in around 11 days, so you should have the test after 14 days of the start of symptoms. A study by Public Health England has found that most people who have had the virus are protected from catching it again for at least five months. However, not everyone is immune, and some people can become reinfected by a coronavirus.

Coronavirus testing isn’t always pleasant. However, it has become necessary for keeping people safe during the pandemic. Whether you are heading back into the office or planning a trip abroad, make sure you get tested as soon as you start displaying symptoms or have contact with someone infected by the virus. You cannot be too careful.


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