NHS Test and Trace
The information below is about how people will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace, what will happen when they are contacted, and how to be aware of any potential scams.
We have also provided a brief recap of the symptoms of coronavirus and what to do if you think you need to get tested.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
The main symptoms of coronavirus are:
- High temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- New, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.
What to do if you notice symptoms?
You and everyone in your household must self-isolate if you or anyone you live with has coronavirus symptoms.
If you’ve got symptoms, even mild ones, get a test immediately to find out if you have coronavirus.
Book a free test as soon as possible at nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119 if displaying symptoms: a high temperature OR a new, continuous cough, OR a loss or change in sense of smell or taste.
It’s vital that everyone with symptoms of coronavirus, regardless of their age, gets a free test.
Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms, unless it is to get tested.
Types and uses of coronavirus (COVID-19) tests
Tests are used to find out whether someone has a current or past infection. For coronavirus (COVID-19), there are 2 categories of tests: virus tests and antibody tests.
- A virus test is used to check if you currently have coronavirus.
- An antibody test is used to tell if a person has previously been infected with coronavirus. (This test is not widely available yet.)
What is a coronavirus test?
Anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, can get a free test to check if they have the virus.
In some circumstances, for instance where there is a local outbreak, the NHS may arrange for people without symptoms to have the test too.
Testing takes less than a minute and is generally pain-free, and getting tested protects your family and your friends, and will help to keep us out of lockdown.
Close contacts of those testing positive will hear from NHS Test and Trace, advising them to stay at home for 14 days to prevent them from unknowingly spreading the virus.
There is another test (antibody test) that checks if you've already had the virus. This test is not widely available yet.
Why it’s important to get tested?
Getting tested protects your family, your friends and the wider community and will help to keep us out of lockdown. This is because it gives people the information they need - whether to continue their isolation and protect the vulnerable and the NHS, or whether they can go back to work and help get the country moving again.
If you test positive, we can also trace the people you’ve been in contact with, so they too can self-isolate to stop the onward spread of the virus. So get tested, and protect each other.
To get a free test, go to nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119. There is an NHS service available to help you and your family get tested and be protected from coronavirus. This is NHS Test and Trace.
Who can get a test?
This service is for everyone. You can get a test:
- For yourself, if you have coronavirus symptoms now (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste)
- For someone you live with, if they have coronavirus symptoms
- For yourself, if you have been told to have a test before you go into hospital, for example, for surgery
- For yourself, even if you do not have symptoms, if you are offered the test as part of the response to a local outbreak.
If you test positive for coronavirus, you must share information promptly about your recent contacts through the NHS Test and Trace service to help us alert other people who may need to self-isolate.
If you have had close recent contact with someone who has coronavirus, you must self-isolate if the NHS Test and Trace service advises you to do so.
How to order a test
Please tell us about your symptoms as soon as possible and get a free test to find out if you have coronavirus. The sooner you have a test, the sooner we can let you know if you and other members of your household must remain in self-isolation.
Members of the public can order a test through the NHS website.
If you don’t have access to the internet, you can order a test by phoning 119.
When to apply for a test
If you’ve got symptoms, even mild ones, get a free test immediately to find out if you have coronavirus.
|Days since symptoms started||What you can order|
|Days 1-4||Book a drive-through or walk-through test at a test site or order a home test kit. Order the kit by 3pm on Day 4 to make sure you can do the test in the first five days - but, wherever possible, book your test immediately after you develop symptoms.|
|Day 5||Book a test at a test site. It's too late to order a home test kit.|
|Day 6||It's too late for a test.|
The test involves taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person themselves (self-administered) or by someone else (assisted).
The different ways you can get tested are covered below.
Drive-through and walk-through test sites
We have established a network of drive-through and walk-through test sites. Watch a video explaining the process for drive-through testing: https://youtu.be/JVB6TC49ss0
Home test kits can be delivered to someone’s door so they can test themselves and their family without leaving the house.
After you complete a self-referral and order a home-test kit, we aim for the test to be delivered within 36 hours. You then self-administer the swab, packing it up as per the included instructions.
Tests should be returned by using a priority postbox.
It is important that samples arrive at the lab for analysis for the virus within 72 hours; otherwise there is the possibility of a less accurate result.
If you have been delivered a home testing kit or have been given a self-test kit at a regional test site, here is a tutorial video that supports the written instructions in your pack, from Dr Amir Khan: https://youtu.be/8lo6g-TYZ-c
Mobile testing units
Mobile testing units travel around the UK to increase access to coronavirus testing. They respond to need, travelling to test essential workers at sites including care homes, police stations and prisons. New units are being brought into operation each day.
NHS capability is being increased by providing test kits directly to ‘satellite’ centres at places like hospitals that have a particularly urgent or significant need.
Testing within an NHS facility such as a hospital is available for patients and some NHS workers.
Across all these testing methods, there is a network of couriers who collect the completed samples and deliver them safely to one of our laboratories.
The swab samples are analysed at our labs and the result is communicated back to the individual. We aim to return test results within 48 hours of a swab being taken, or within 72 hours for a home test.
Care home testing
Adult social care staff are able to get tested whether symptomatic or not. These are conducted at the care home if it has registered for tests to be delivered to it.
Testing for asymptomatic staff will be available through the care homes portal and testing for symptomatic staff (self-isolating) will be via the employer or self-referral portals for essential workers.
For residents – Detailed instructions on administering tests to residents will be provided to care homes. Everyone who will be involved in administering tests should watch this instruction video.
For staff - The test kits are self-administered meaning staff can perform the tests on themselves. Test kits come with detailed instructions on how to use them. You can also refer to this helpful video on self-administering swabs.
Asymptomatic testing pilot
A new pilot, to evaluate the effectiveness of testing for people without symptoms of the virus who work in high-contact professions, has begun.
This will include a select group of staff such as taxi drivers, cleaners and retail assistants, to see if there is demand for testing amongst these kinds of workers, and how they are affected by the virus.
This targeted, asymptomatic swab testing will take place as part of a close partnership with government, local authorities and a number of employers, with tens of thousands of tests offered to selected groups.
Those who test positive through targeted asymptomatic testing will need to self-isolate as normal and follow national guidance.
Positive results will be shared with NHS Test and Trace, in order to identify recent contacts, advise them to self-isolate and prevent further transmission of the virus.
What does a test involve?
The test usually involves taking a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat, using a long cotton bud.
You can do the swab yourself (if you are aged 12 or over) or someone can do it for you. Children aged 11 or under cannot do the swab themselves.
Their parent or guardian will have to swab test them, and a video on how to do this can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xaw8DsF2Igc
How will you receive your results?
You'll get a text or email when your result is ready. If you went to a test site for your test, it can take up to 48 hours to get your result. It may take up to 72 hours for a home test.
There are 3 types of result you can get:
- unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive
If you do not get your result, call the coronavirus testing contact centre on 119 (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or 0300 303 2713 (Scotland).
The contact centre is open from 7am to 11pm.
How do people without email/mobiles get their test results?
An email address and phone number are currently required to book a test.
Individuals who do not have an email address can ask someone they trust (e.g. a family member) to receive their results.
Individuals who are not comfortable using the digital booking systems can use 119 (in England and Wales) and 0300 303 2713 (in Scotland and Northern Ireland) to book a test now.
As a priority, we are working on a non-digital solution. We expect to update further on this in the coming weeks.
If you test negative
If you get a negative test result, this means you are at low risk of having coronavirus.
Other members of your household can stop self-isolating.
If you feel well and no longer have symptoms similar to coronavirus, you can stop self-isolating. You could still have another virus, such as a cold or flu – in which case it is still best to avoid contact with other people until you are better.
If you test positive
If you get a positive test result, this means that when you took the test, you had coronavirus. You – and other members of your household – must continue to self-isolate;
- If you had a test because you had symptoms, keep self-isolating for at least 7 days from when your symptoms started
- If you had a test but have not had symptoms, self-isolate for 7 days from when you had the test
- Anyone you live with, and anyone in your support bubble, must self-isolate for 14 days from when you start self-isolating
- To help yourself get better, drink water to keep yourself hydrated. You should drink enough during the day so your urine is a pale clear colour
- You can use over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol, to help with some of your symptoms. Use these according to the instructions on the packet or label and do not exceed the recommended dose.
If you test unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive
An unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive result means it's not possible to say if you had coronavirus when the test was done. Get another coronavirus test as soon as possible if this happens.
If you had a test because you had symptoms, you need to have another test within 5 days of your symptoms starting.
If you’re not able to have another test in time, you must self-isolate for at least 7 days from when your symptoms started. Anyone you live with, and anyone in your support bubble, must self-isolate for 14 days from when your symptoms started.
Help us help you get the treatment you need
While everyone is being told to stay at home, it can be hard to know what to do if you're unwell.
- For help from a GP – use your GP surgery's website, use an online service or app, or call the surgery
- For urgent medical help – use the NHS 111 online service, or call 111 if you're unable to get help online
- For life-threatening emergencies – call 999 for an ambulance. If you're advised to go to hospital, it's important to go. It’s important to get help if your coronavirus symptoms get worse.
Use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service if:
- You feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
- You feel breathless and it’s getting worse
- Your symptoms get worse and you’re not sure what to do.
What does self-isolation mean?
You must self-isolate for 14 days after you were in contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus.
This is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus. Self-isolation means staying at home and not going outside your home at any time.
If you live with other people, they do not need to self-isolate, but they should avoid contact with you as far as possible and follow advice on hygiene.
If you do not live with other people, you should seek help from others, or delivery services, for essential activities such as food shopping.
Self-isolation can be particularly challenging if you are looking after children, or if you care for vulnerable people who cannot stay with friends or family. [But there is support available – please see below]
If you go on to develop symptoms, anyone you live with must then self-isolate and you must report your symptoms and get tested. It is crucial that you complete your 14-day self-isolation period if you’ve been identified as a contact, even if you get a negative test result.
This is because you may have the virus, but it cannot yet be detected by a test, so you could unknowingly spread the virus if you leave the house. Other members of your household, however, do not need to remain in self-isolation.
When should I self-isolate?
If you have symptoms or have tested positive
You must self-isolate for at least 7 days if:
- You have symptoms of coronavirus and tested positive, had an unclear result or did not have a test
- You tested positive but have not had symptoms.
The 7 day isolation period begins when your symptoms started. If you have not had symptoms, the 7 days starts from when you had the test.
You can stop self-isolating after 7 days if either:
- You do not have any symptoms
- You just have a cough or changes to your sense of smell or taste – these can last for weeks after the infection has gone.
Keep self-isolating if you have any of these symptoms after 7 days:
- A high temperature or feeling hot and shivery
- A runny nose or sneezing
- Feeling or being sick
- Loss of appetite.
Only stop self-isolating when these symptoms have gone. If you have diarrhoea or you’re being sick, stay at home until 48 hours after they've stopped.
If you live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive
You must self-isolate for 14 days if you live with (or are in a support bubble with) someone who:
- Has symptoms of coronavirus and tested positive
- Had an unclear result
- Did not have a test
- Tested positive but has not had symptoms
The 14 days starts from:
- When the first person in your home or support bubble started having symptoms
- The day they were tested, if they have not had symptoms.
This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear. You can stop self-isolating after 14 days if you do not get any symptoms.
Keep self-isolating and get a test if you get symptoms. Get a test to check if you have coronavirus if you get symptoms while you're self-isolating.
If your test is negative, you must keep self-isolating for the rest of the 14 days.
If your test is positive, you must self-isolate for 7 days from when your symptoms started.
This might mean you're self-isolating for longer than 14 days overall.
Support if you are self-isolating
We will direct you to your local authority helpline if you need the following during the period of self-isolation:
- Practical or social support for yourself
- Support for someone you care for
- Financial support.
This is so you can access the local support available to you, like help delivering food or medicine. You may also be able to get help from the NHS volunteer responders.
- If you are not sick and you are able to work from home, you can continue to work and be paid by your employer as normal
- Statutory Sick Pay is available to employees who have been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service, because they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus, and who are unable to work as a result, subject to normal eligibility criteria
- More information is available in the NHS Test and Trace workplace guidance document
- Some employers may also apply their own sickness policies and continue to offer full pay for all or some of your isolation period
- Further information can be found at: gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay.
- Councils have developed services to meet local needs, including any help you may need with delivery of food and medicines, accessing information and mental health advice and support.
What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is a well-established method of preventing and controlling outbreaks from measles and TB through to sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia.
- The principles are tried and tested. We work with a person who has an infection to help them remember everyone who they have had close contact with while they could have been infectious
- Then we contact and warn everyone who might be at risk, as quickly as possible, offering advice on how they should act in order to help prevent further spread
- Finding contacts can be simple; a close friend or work colleague, or it can be more complex, for instance someone who has travelled or attended a communal event
- There are also levels of risk to consider – for instance you are much more likely to transmit the virus through close contact for a period of time, whereas simply walking past someone in a street is much lower risk.
We currently have over 27,000 contact tracers in place, supported by expanded local health protection teams based around the country and online contact tracing services.
How does tracing work?
NHS Test and Trace will contact both those who have tested positive and their close recent contacts – by text, email and / or telephone.
They will ring contacts up to 10 times, and will try to contact you at the most suitable time of day.
Our contract tracers are working really hard to reach people and it is very important that anyone who is contacted responds to us.
Who is a contact?
Who will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace?
A ‘contact’ is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) anytime from 2 days before the person was symptomatic up to 7 days from onset of symptoms. For example, a contact can be:
- Sexual partners or people who spend significant time in the same household as a person who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19);
- A person who has had face-to-face contact (within 1 metre), with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), including: being coughed on, having a face-to-face conversation, or having skin-to-skin physical contact, or any contact within 1 metre for 1 minute or longer without face-to-face contact;
- A person who has been between 1 and 2 metres from someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) for more than 15 minutes; or
- A person who has travelled in a small vehicle or on a plane near someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).
NHS Test and Trace will contact you if:
- You test positive for coronavirus
- You are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
When you are contacted by NHS Test and Trace service
This is a new service, and people may be worried about answering a call from an unknown number.
If they are a contact who’s already been told by the person who tested positive, they may not understand why the service is getting in contact.
But it’s really important to answer a call, as it will help stop the spread of the virus in our communities.
If the NHS Test and Trace service contacts you, the service will use text messages, email or phone. When you are contacted through one of these methods, you will see:
- Phone = 0300 013 5000
- SMS = NHStracing – words within the text refer to NHS Test and Trace
- Email = NHS Test and Trace
What to expect from contact tracers?
Contact tracers will:
- Call you from 0300 013 5000
- Send you text messages from ‘NHS’
- Ask you to sign into the NHS Test and Trace contact tracing website
- Ask for your full name and date of birth to confirm your identity, and postcode to offer support while self-isolating
- Ask about the coronavirus symptoms you have been experiencing
- Ask you to provide the name, telephone number and/or email address of anyone you have had close contact with in the 2 days prior to your symptoms starting
- Ask if anyone you have been in contact with is under 18 or lives outside of England.
Contact tracers will never:
- Ask you to dial a premium rate number to speak to us (for example, those starting 09 or 087)
- Ask you to make any form of payment or purchase a product or any kind
- Ask for any details about your bank account
- Ask for your social media identities or login details, or those of your contacts
- Ask you for any passwords or PINs, or ask you to set up any passwords or PINs over the phone
- Disclose any of your personal or medical information to your contacts
- Provide medical advice on the treatment of any potential coronavirus symptoms
- Ask you to download any software to your PC or ask you to hand over control of your PC, smartphone or tablet to anyone else
- Ask you to access any website that does not belong to the government or NHS.
Avoid potential scams by taking remembering what a tracer would NOT ask for;
- Any passwords or PINs
- Any form of payment
- Any details about your bank account
- To download anything
If you are suspicious of any messages, you should report them.
By doing so, you'll be helping to protect many more people from being affected.
Email - If you have received an email which you’re not quite sure about, forward it to the Suspicious Email Reporting Service (SERS) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text message - Suspicious text messages should be forwarded to 7726. This free-of-charge short code enables your provider to investigate the origin of the text and take action, if found to be malicious.
Why is it important to provide your contacts to contact tracers?
Before a vaccine can be found to beat coronavirus, contact tracing is one of the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the virus.
By providing your contacts to NHS Test and Trace, we can give advice to those contacts so they also self-isolate to stop the onward spread of the virus.
The information you share also helps us to identify local patterns of infection and transmission, helping us stop outbreaks at the source, reduce transmission and save lives.
Why is it important to provide your contact details to venues you visit?
By sharing your name and phone number with venues, NHS Test and Trace will be able to contact you if there is evidence of several new cases of coronavirus linked to that venue and advise you on the action you can take to help stop the spread of the virus. This will help prevent local outbreaks, ultimately helping keep us out of future lockdowns.
If you are told to self-isolate, what does this mean?
You must self-isolate for 14 days after you were in contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus. This is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.
Self-isolation means staying at home and not going outside your home at any time. If you live with other people, they do not need to self-isolate, but they should avoid contact with you as far as possible and follow advice on hygiene.
If you do not live with other people, you should seek help from others, or delivery services, for essential activities such as food shopping.
Self-isolation can be particularly challenging if you are looking after children, or if you care for vulnerable people who cannot stay with friends or family.
If you go on to develop symptoms, anyone you live with must then self-isolate and you must report your symptoms and get tested.
It is crucial that you complete your 14-day self-isolation period, if you have been identified as a contact, even if you get a negative test result. This is because you may have the virus, but it cannot yet be detected by a test, so you could unknowingly spread the virus if you leave the house.
Other members of your household, however, do not need to remain in self-isolation.