Coronavirus update: Home testing kits now available – how do they work?

Coronavirus testing is being rolled out to the over 65s with symptoms, care home staff and residents, as well as anyone with symptoms who can’t work from home. How do the tests work?

Britons can now apply for a coronavirus test on the British government’s website.

However, a test can only be ordered if one of the following three things apply, you’re:

  • An essential worker with coronavirus symptoms
  • Aged 65 or over with coronavirus symptoms
  • Someone who cannot work from home and has coronavirus symptoms (for example, construction workers or delivery drivers)

Additionally, anyone with coronavirus symptoms who live with an essential worker, a person aged 65 and over, or someone who travels to work can apply.


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Moreover, you can apply for a test if you have a clinical referral from NHS 111 online.

The test

The test is accurate when used within the first five days of having symptoms.

The government advises the public to apply for the test within the first three days of symptoms, as it may take up to two days to arrange the test.

Unfortunately, not everybody who applies will be tested – it all depends on how many tests are available in your area.

And frontline NHS staff will be given priority on testing kits.

The test can either be posted to your home address or given at a drive-through testing site.

It involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat using a cotton bud.

The antigen test now available only tests if you currently have coronavirus – not if you’ve already had it.

Antigen tests detect the presence or absence of an antigen (a toxin or foreign substance, such as coronavirus) in the body.

The antibody test – that reveals if you’ve ever had coronavirus – isn’t available “yet”.

With the government adding that antibody tests aren’t available “yet”, it implies it may be in the future.

And there’s no doubt that Britons will be curious as to whether they’ve had the notorious disease.


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Medical website Patient explains that different antibodies are made during and after an infection.

Antibodies are small proteins that circulate in the bloodstream.

They are apart of the body’s natural immune system – sometimes called immunoglobulins.

Made from a type of white blood cell (a B lymphocyte), antibodies attach to foreign materials (such as a virus) in the body.

It can take several days for the levels of antibodies to rise in response to an infection.

That’s why these antibody tests aren’t used to diagnose a new infection quickly.

Antibody tests can be useful to confirm an infection in the past and to confirm if you’re now immune to the virus.

But, for now, more of the public can confirm whether they’ve currently got a coronavirus infection from the antigen test.

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