Regular rapid testing frequently asked questions
Can everyone now get a rapid Covid test?
Yes, everyone in England will be able to access free, regular, rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) testing from 9 April for themselves and their families to use twice a week, in line with clinical guidance.
What is Rapid Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) and how does it work?
Lateral Flow Tests (LFT) are a type of technology that allow rapid testing for COVID‐19.
A swab is inserted into the nose and throat; the test kit is then inserted into a fluid and some drops of this are put on a lateral flow device kit. This then gives a result in the form of coloured lines indicating a positive or negative result – a little like a pregnancy test – usually within an hour (the most commonly used test will give a result in about 30 mins).
How is a Rapid Lateral Flow device (LFD) different to a PCR test?
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing (sometimes called a swab test) has been available now since summer last year to anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19.
The PCR test is the “gold standard” for testing but the results need to be processed in a laboratory and so it usually takes between 24 to 72 hours for someone in the community to get their test result back. This does not matter for people who have symptoms as they should be at home self-isolating while they wait for their test result.
Rapid Lateral Flow Tests use a similar swab to collect the sample, but these swabs are processed and provide results in 30 minutes. This is why they can have a use for people who do not have symptoms but who could still have the virus and therefore be infectious as it can identify people who did not know they were infected. If these people isolate quickly they can avoid passing the virus on to people.
How effective is rapid testing?
No test is ever perfect, however new analysis has shown that rapid flow tests are accurate and reliable and have extremely low false positive rates: New analysis of lateral flow tests shows specificity of at least 99.9% (GOV.UK, opens in a new window).
Additional clinical evaluation by Public Health England and Oxford University showed rapid flow tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community, including for asymptomatic people: Oxford University and PHE confirm high-sensitivity of lateral flow tests (GOV.UK opens in a new window).
Rapid flow tests (lateral flow tests, LFT or LFD) give a much quicker result (usually within 30 minutes) but are not as accurate as standard PCR tests. A negative test is not a 100% guarantee that you do not have the virus. As 1 in 3 people may have the virus and never get symptoms, this can be a useful tool to find extra cases of COVID-19 before the virus is passed on. If you are having contacts with other people regularly, you could have caught the virus and started to pass it on, even if a previous test showed you are negative. This means it is very important to take the rapid flow test twice a week.
Will Rapid Lateral Flow tests pick up the new strains of COVID-19?
Yes the tests will pick up the known new strains
Is it compulsory to take this test?
No. We're hoping that many people will recognise the benefits of getting involved in local testing efforts to reduce the spread of the virus in their communities
Why should people take part?
We aim to identify people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms but who are infectious and could spread the infection to others unknowingly. Identifying and supporting infectious people to isolate before they develop symptoms will help reduce spread.
Do I still have to go for testing if I've received the COVID-19 vaccination?
Current advice for those vaccinated is that they continue with all current guidance and advice with regards to COVID-19 restrictions; this includes testing.
I am worried about safety concerns around using the Innova lateral flow test kits and have heard people in USA have been asked to stop using them
The Department for Health and Social Care has reassured us these tests are safe to use. “The Innova test has already gone through the UK’s rigorous Porton Down assessment process, and we have a robust quality assurance process in place. We have confidence in lateral flow tests, which help us identify people without symptoms but who could pass the virus to others, helping to break the chains of transmission.”
The Department for Health and Social Care takes a proactive approach to quality assurance of rapid flow devices. They perform pre-checks on batches of stock, random sampling of lateral flow devices, and monitor real world performance metrics. A programme of quality assurance includes the monitoring and investigation of incidents, analysis of performance trends, and they also run tests using both rapid flow devices and standard PCR tests (dual testing) to monitor and understand performance.
The Innova rapid flow tests have undergone rigorous testing at Porton Down and approval process from the The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The effectiveness of rapid flow tests continues to be studied when they are used in real life settings.
How do I dispose of my lateral flow testing kit at home?
To safely dispose of the test kit, place all of the items from the test and the plastic packaging into a bag and then place in your black rubbish bin.
All items and plastic from the test need to go into your black bin as it is taken to an Energy from Waste plant and burned. This applies whether the test result is positive or negative.
None of the plastic items or plastic packaging should be put into your green recycling bin. They are not recyclable.
There may also be disposable gloves and/or disposable masks supplied in your kit or used in the testing process. These items are not recyclable and should be put into your black rubbish bin.
The outer cardboard packaging and paper leaflets from the test kits are the only things that can be recycled in your green recycling bin.