Where do I get a private Covid test? How to get tested for travel - and PCR, lateral flow and LAMP testing explained
A list of private sector providers who may be able to conduct Covid-19 tests has been issued by the UK government.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was "aware" of the non-NHS providers and that individuals should do their own research around the tests supplied.
The 46 providers listed meet the minimum standards for Test to Release for international travel - meaning a negative private Covid test could reduce the time needed to self-isolate on arrival in England.
A negative Covid test can be taken after five days of self-isolation and if this test returns a negative result it will end the quarantine period – but it will come at a cost.
Due to the demand for Covid tests, anyone wishing to take a test after five days of isolation will have to pay for one privately.
What are the current travel quarantine rules?
Passengers who arrive from a destination not on the government’s travel corridor list need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival into the UK.
This is because it can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear.
People arriving into the UK from a place on the travel corridor list may not need to self-isolate for 14 days, and should check the government’s website for the rules.
When will the new travel quarantine rules take effect?
Mr Shapps said the new travel quarantine rules will come into effect from 15 December 2020.
“We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe,” said Mr Shapps.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
Do I need a negative Covid test to travel abroad?
Many countries require proof of a negative Covid test result from places of high risk, including the UK, before access is allowed.
Spain is the latest nation to introduce mandatory pre-departure testing for many visitors, adding to St Lucia, Turks & Caicos, The Maldives, Cyprus, Portugal, Turkey and Italy.
How can I get a private Covid test?
Covid tests can be purchased from a number of websites and range from £65-£120.
Some high street pharmacies such as Boots and Lloyds also advertise tests - though you will need a test delivered to your home during quarantine.
Lloyds offer a PCR swab test - to see if you currently have Covid-19 - for £119, which can be bought online and posted out to you at home.
The full list of private providers the government is aware of can be found HERE.
How long will it take to get the results?
It can typically take between 24 and 48 hours for results to be issued, meaning the travel quarantine could end after six days of arrival in the UK.
Lloyds Pharmacy states results can be received “within an estimated three working days” after its partner lab receives the sample, but warns it could take longer.
Customers will also receive a downloadable certificate when their results are ready and presented in a secure online patient record.
What are PCR tests?
PCR - polymerase chain reaction - testing is the most common form of testing in the UK and is the one used by the NHS to assess if someone has Covid.
These tests come in different forms from a swab test, to LAMP testing, a 90-minute test and a saliva test.
A swab test of the patient’s tonsils and inside their nose is taken to collect a sample of RNA (nucleic acid which carries genetic Covid information). This is then sent to a lab to assess if Covid is present.
LAMP - loop-mediated isothermal amplification - testing is similar to swab testing. It takes more RNA copies though and the sample is placed in a vial to detect if Covid is present, meaning a faster result, typically within two hours.
A 90-minute PCR test is a machine that can detect if Covid is present in someone’s RNA within 90 minutes and has been pilot tested across eight London hospitals.
A saliva test can be done at home by an individual. A small amount of saliva is collected in a sample pot and sent to a laboratory. LAMP technology assesses if Covid is present and the result is texted to the person. This can take 48 hours but can be done from home.
What is antigen testing?
These tests are slightly different to PCR tests as they identify proteins produced by the body in response to a virus like Covid.
There is no need for lab testing as antigens are easily detectable in saliva, meaning they can be used in a wide range of settings and produce faster results.
Antigen testing comes in two forms: lateral flow testing and a 20-second test.
The lateral flow tests are designed to identify asymptomatic people. A swab of the throat or inside the nose is taken and placed into a tube of liquid which extracts any Covid molecules.
A few small drops of the liquid are then placed on to a strip which will deliver a result in 15 minutes. Two lines on the strip means it’s positive, one line at the top means it’s negative and one line at the bottom means it’s an invalid test.
The 20-second virolens test could speed up the process even more.
It uses a portable machine which can detect the virus in saliva samples in just 20 seconds by taking a detailed image and running the data through its computer.
The device, developed by British company iAbra, has been trialled at Heathrow Airport.
What is antibody testing?
Antibody testing looks at if your body has produced any Covid antibodies, possibly in response to having contracted the virus, from a blood sample.