How to book a Covid test: Map of every UK testing centre near you revealed

CASES of the coronavirus are once again on the up across the UK and experts have urged people experiencing symptoms to get tested.

The government states that you should get tested within the first three days of experiencing symptoms. Here's what you need to know about testing in the UK.

Who is eligible for a Covid test? 

Anyone with Covid symptoms in the UK can now receive a free test at their local testing centre. 

According to the government website, the main Covid symptoms to look for are a fever, a persistent new cough and loss of taste or smell. 

If you don’t have symptoms, you may also be offered a lateral flow test in one of the 106 areas across England that are trialling mass community testing, including Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Bradford. 

Liverpool currently offers covid tests for people with no symptoms, as do some London boroughs with higher rates of infection, including Brent, Waltham Forest and Redbridge.

Check with your local council to see if your area offers free rapid community testing. 

Other people who may be eligible for a free test include Brits working in care homes or hospitals, people about to have an operation or those attending school or university.

Brits can also register for a Covid home testing kit if they are unable to safely attend a Covid testing centre. 

Travellers who have arrived in the UK from a high-risk country or about to go abroad are not eligible for a free test – but can buy a private test.  

You are also not allowed a free test if your employer has asked you to get one, but you can buy a private one.

How do I get a Covid test? 

Head to the government website and you’ll find an NHS test checking function, which will help you find out if you’re eligible for a free test. 

If you have symptoms, you will always be eligible – but you may wish to use the test checker if you have other reasons for requesting a Covid test. 

If you are displaying Covid symptoms, you must get a test as soon as possible. 

Testing sites around the UK are open seven days a week and throughout the Christmas period. 

Mobile testing units also travel around the UK to boost access to testing.

They mobile testing sites travel to test essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons.

For those who can’t travel safely to a test centre, can order a kit at home from the government’s website. 

Tests are most effective within five days of developing symptoms, with the government advising you to get a test within the first three days of displaying symptoms. 

In England, if you have a test on the eighth day of your symptoms, you  must use a test centre as home kits take too long to process. 

In Scotland and Wales you must go to a test centre on the fifth day of having symptoms – rather than use a home test. 

Those struggling to order a test online can call 119 to arrange a test, or 0300 303 2713 in Scotland.

In England, you can either go to a drive-through centre or a walk-in centre. 

You will either be asked to carry out the test yourself or someone else will do it for you. 

With stay at home testing kit the tools will be delivered to your door, allowing you to carry out the test at your home.

If you order a stay at home test, you will be asked to complete an identity check before the test is sent out – and you can order tests for up to three other people. 

If you are displaying symptoms, you, your household and your support bubble must all self-isolate until you get the test results. 

How do I get my results? 

Once you have had your test, you will receive your results by text message.

The government says most people will receive their test results the next day, but it can take up to three days in some instances. 

You, your household and your support bubble must continue to self-isolate while you wait for your results. 

If your test is negative you can go back to work as long as you have not had a high temperature for 48 hours and those you live with also have negative test results. 

If your test is positive and you have no symptoms you must self-isolate for 10 days from when you took the test. 

If your test is positive and you develop symptoms in the days after the result, you should self isolate for 10 days from when you started getting symptoms. 

What kind of Covid tests are available? 

There are two different categories of testing – one finds out if you currently have the disease, the other shows if the person has built up antibodies to the virus. 

Here are the different types of tests currently available: 

PCR testing

PCR testing (or Polymerase Chain Reaction) is the most common type of testing in the UK and is used by the NHS to offer free tests to Brits with symptoms. 

In PCR tests, the swab is used to collect a sample from the patient’s tonsils and then inside their nose. 

This is then sent to a laboratory where the sample is heated and cooled so it multiplies into larger quantities of DNA.

Bioscientists can then see whether the virus is currently present.

Because of the process, PCR test results take about two days.

Antigen Tests 

The antigen tests determine whether you have the virus at the time when you take the test. 

These tests look for proteins on the surface of the virus which can be easily found in saliva.

Lab testing isn’t needed for these simple tests, meaning they can be carried out in places such as care homes.

Results can be provided more quickly than PCR tests, with some systems already available and dozens more being developed.

Lateral Flow Tests 

The government’s latest testing drive focuses on Lateral Flow Tests which aim to pick up asymptomatic transmissions of the virus in the community. 

With one in three positive cases believed to have no symptoms, over 100 local areas in the UK have rolled out free community testing to better understand Covid transmission rates. 

The lateral flow test uses similar technology to a pregnancy test.

A swab is inserted into the nose or throat, then the sample is inserted into a tube of liquid for a short time which extracts the molecule that determines if COVID-19 is present.

No laboratory equipment is needed as a few drops of liquid are then dropped onto a small strip.

Within 15 minutes, the strip of paper will show up with two lines if it is positive, one line on the top if it is negative or one line on the bottom if the test is invalid.

Antibody testing

Antibody tests check if your body has produced any antibodies to fight against the virus.

The test works best on those who have not had Covid-19 symptoms for the last three to four weeks – and uses a blood test to look for antibodies. 

There are pin-prick tests in development which would allow a person to submit their own blood test, but these have not been rolled out yet.

Antibody tests can be booked and paid for privately but are not largely available on the NHS.

Unlike other diseases, the UK government and the World Health Organisation agree there is currently no evidence that someone with antibodies will not catch COVID-19 again in the future.

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