How long do PCR Covid test results take?

PCR tests are a cruicial tool in the prevention of Covid spread.

Waiting for the results can be an agonising wait, as it could be the difference between freedom and ten days of self-isolation.

If you've got symptoms of the virus, you'll be wondering if you can get a test.

The NHS says you can get a free PCR test if you have a new persistent cough, a high temperature or a loss of taste or smell.

You need to self-isolate straight away until you get your results.

Do not leave home, except to post a test kit or for a PCR test appointment.

But some experts say you should get a Covid test if you feel unwell with cold or flu-like symptoms to be on the safe side.

You can also do a lateral flow test at home which takes just 30 minutes. This can give an indication of Covid infection.

What is a PCR Covid test?

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are the gold standard and are sent off to a lab to be properly processed – unlike lateral flow tests that can be completed at home in less than an hour.

PCR swabs can be taken at a drive-through centre or can be sent to you at home.

It is sent to a laboratory where a lab technician looks for genetic material of the virus using highly specialised equipment.

The PCR tests are much better at finding very small amounts of the virus, especially early during an infection.

So these are used primarily in people who have Covid symptoms.

How does it work?

It uses a long cotton bud, which takes a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat.

PCR tests – which are mainly for people with Covid symptoms – are sent to a lab to be checked.

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If you have any of these three Covid symptoms, you should get a PCR test as soon as possible: a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed.

You can order an NHS PCR test kit to be sent to your home.

You need to get the test done in the first eight days of having symptoms.

How long do results take from a PCR Covid test?

Most people typically get their result the next day, but it can take up to three days.

NHS Test and Trace figures show around 95 per cent of people get a result in 24 hours if they are tested under Pillar 1, which covers places like hospitals and outbreak spots.

But around 60 per cent of those tested at large drive-through centres, under Pillar 2, get their result back in 24 hours.

The figure is lower (55 per cent) for those that do their test at home.

The turnaround time has historically fluctuated depending on the Covid outbreak at the time.

For example, results may take longer to come back during very busy periods or peaks of waves because labs are swamped with tests.

Usually the result is sent to you via text or email when it's ready. If you have the NHS Covid-19 app, the result might come to you that way.

If you do not get your results by day six, then call 119. Calls to 119 are free from a landline or mobile phone. Lines are open from 7am to 11pm.

Do I have to self-isolate after I test positive for Covid-19?

If you test positive for Covid, you have to self-isolate.

It's a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive or are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. You could be fined if you don't.

You should not leave the house for any reason, including for work or to go to the shops.

Self-isolate immediately if you have symptoms or have had a positive test result.

If you have symptoms, you must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your symptoms started, if earlier than when you took your test.

For close contacts of people who have tested positive, you only need to self-isolate if you are vaccinated, or the infected person has or is suspected to have the Omicron variant.

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