When should I get a Covid test?

With testing hitting the headlines in recent days, and increasing numbers of people trying to get a Covid test, it can be confusing to know when you should, or shouldn’t seek a Covid test.
Covid Testing

Here is the latest advice from Public Health England.

If you have Covid symptoms, you must get a test

If you don’t have symptoms, don’t get a test

If you don’t have Coronavirus symptoms, and have not been advised to take a test by a doctor or a public health professional, you should not be booking a test.

A recent survey states that a quarter of people arriving at testing sites don’t have any symptoms. Please ensure that testing remains for people who actually need it.

What are the symptoms?

NHS 111 lists the main symptoms of Coronavirus as

  • a high temperaturea new
  • continuous cough 
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

Most people with coronavirus have at least one of these symptoms.

I have symptoms but can’t get a test. What should I do?

If you have any coronavirus symptoms you must isolate immediately for 10 days (don’t wait for a test or a test result before doing so)

I have been in contact with someone who has a positive Covid test. What should I do?

If you are identified as a contact of a positive case, you must isolate for the full 14 days. You must continue to isolate at home, even if for some reason you got a negative test during that period.

You do not need to get a test unless you have symptoms.

You can get an isolation note to show to your employer that you need to self isolate. Click here for more info  

Should I get a test or not?

  • Only get a test if you have coronavirus symptoms or have been asked to get tested by a doctor or a public health professional or by your local council. Do not use this service to get a test in order to travel to another country. If you need a certificate for travel purposes, you need to pay for a private test
  • The testing service shouldn’t be used to prove to your employer, school, or travel company a negative coronavirus test result. You should only get tested if you have symptoms.
  • If someone in your household starts to have symptoms, then they must get tested and the rest of your household should self-isolate with them whilst they wait for the results. If you or other members of the household don’t have symptoms, then you should not get a test – only people with symptoms should get tested. Most people who are tested in person get their results the next day. More information on self isolating is available here 
  • If you have been in close contact with someone who has coronavirus you should not get tested unless you have coronavirus symptoms. A negative test result does not change the period of time that you will be required to self-isolate.  
  • If you have been abroad and are quarantining, you should not get tested unless you have coronavirus symptoms. A negative test result does not change the period of time that you will be required to quarantine.
  • Do not stockpile tests. If you develop symptoms in future you will be able to book a test. There is no need to order a test in case of future use.

How do I get a test?

If you have symptoms and need to book a test, you can do this online here or by ringing 119.

  • You should get tested within the first 5 days of your symptoms
  • Do not call 111. This is an urgent service and they cannot help you with tests.

My school or work are telling me I need to get a test…….

  • Schools should follow the official guidance here. Schools should not advise pupils or teachers to take a test unless they exhibit one or more of the listed symptoms. If there is a confirmed case then schools should not advise entire classes or year groups to get tested. Only those with symptoms or those advised by their clinician or Local Authority should get a test. Schools must not require students without symptoms to provide evidence of a negative test before letting them back to school.
  • Employers should not be asking members of staff to get tested before they come into the workplace.
  • Travel companies should not be directing clients to NHS Test and Trace to get a test for anything related to overseas travel.


  • To stop the spread of the virus remember Hands. Face. Space.
  • Hands: wash your hands regularly
  • Face : use a face covering when social distancing is not possible
  • Space : try to keep your distance from people who are not in your household

What does the test involve?

The test takes 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. Parents or guardians have to swab test children aged 11 or under.

How do I get a test for someone else?

If other people you live with have symptoms, you can order tests for up to 3 of them.

If you're applying for a test for someone else, and the person is aged 13 or over, check they're happy for you to get a test for them.

Have you had a test or been trying to book one?  Can you tell us your story?

We’re gathering feedback from people about their experience of the testing service.  If you’ve recently had a test, or been trying to book one, can you tell us your story?

Your feedback will be used to help improve the service. We’ll anonymise your story, but your story could make a real difference to someone else.

Get in touch here or call our freephone Helpline on 0800 136 656 or email enquiries@healthwatchmedway.com 

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