Coronavirus (COVID-19): testing
Different testing services are available in Northern Ireland to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). If you have symptoms of coronavirus, or have been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, you should get tested immediately. Find out how to get a test.
Symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)
The symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
- a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste
If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, or have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you should book a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test immediately and isolate until the results are known.
If your test is positive you will have to isolate for a total of 10 days.
How to get a PCR test in Northern Ireland
There are a number of ways you can arrange to get a PCR test in Northern Ireland.
Everyone in Northern Ireland with symptoms of COVID-19, or who is identified as a close contact of a positive case of COVID-19, is eligible for a free test.
The test procedure is a ‘self-test’ process. If a child needs tested, a parent/ guardian will need to arrive at the site prepared to swab the child.
If you have symptoms, or are a contact of someone who has tested positive, you can be tested at one of the drive or walk through test centres, or at a mobile testing unit.
If you are unable to attend a test site you can order a postal self-test kit online.
On day eight of having symptoms, you need to go to a test site, it’s too late to order a home test kit.
If you need help booking a test, or have any questions, telephone the free phone number 119.
Help with understanding the test process
For help on how to take a test, see:
Instructions for the test kit with translations are available at:
A video on how to use a Coronavirus (COVID-19) test kit on a child is available at:
Getting your PCR test results
PCR tests have to be processed in a laboratory. You should get your test results within 48 hours of taking the test by email or text to your mobile phone.
Results through the home delivery service may take up to 72 hours.
Further information on regular testing in HSC settings is available at:
Testing if you have no symptoms
If you have no symptoms and have not been in contact with a person who has tested positive for the virus, you may be advised to take a rapid COVID-19 test, particularly before engaging with people outside your household (going to a workplace or event for example).
Rapid COVID-19 tests which use Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) have an important role in detecting asymptomatic cases. People who are infected but are showing no symptoms may be unwittingly passing the virus on to others.
Testing twice a week and on a regular basis with LFDs increases their detection rate.
While rapid COVID-19 tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, they work best when the levels of the virus are at their highest and when people are in the most infectious stage of the disease. They are free, simple to use and produce results within 30 minutes and with regular use, help to detect infection early.
If you’re over the age of 18 and need rapid COVID-19 tests, but cannot access them through your employer or place of education, you can:
- order coronavirus raid lateral flow tests online for free delivery to your home
- find where to get rapid lateral flow tests for collection
Reporting LFD test results
It’s important to report the result from your LFD test in all cases regardless of your result to help the health service monitor the virus most effectively:
Even with a negative LFD test, you must continue to follow all other public health and safety measures in place.
If you get a positive LFD result you should self-isolate and book a confirmatory PCR test immediately.
If the PCR test result is negative, you and your household can leave isolation.
If the PCR test result is positive you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date that your symptoms started. Your close contacts should follow guidance on self-isolation.
Workforce testing is a key COVID-19 risk mitigation, particularly as more businesses are preparing for a return to the office. Rapid COVID-19 tests are currently available free of charge to any business, with more than 10 employees, wishing to implement a workforce testing scheme.
Any employer wishing to introduce workforce testing should send an Expression of Interest (EOI).
Organisations with less than 10 employees may partner with others organisations in their local area to establish a shared workforce testing scheme.
Testing to support events and large gatherings
It is strongly recommended that anyone taking part in, or attending, any such events should take a rapid COVID-19 test (LFD) before they attend the event, and on days two and eight after the event.
The purpose of this testing is:
- to identify any positive cases in advance of the event to enable prompt self-isolation if this is required
- to limit the spread of COVID-19 infection
Testing after an event will help to identify any asymptomatic COVID-19 infections arising in association with the event or social gatherings that may happen immediately before or afterwards.
Event organiser's responsibilities
Although testing is not mandatory, event organisers are strongly advised to recommend that anyone attending an event should:
- take a rapid COVID-19 test no more than 24 hours in advance and on days two and eight following the event
- report their test results
Event organisers should send an expression of interest to take part in the Workforce Testing Programme to deliver free rapid COVID-19 testing for employees, contractors and volunteers working for them. They can also provide tests to those attending the events.
You may be advised to self-isolate while waiting to be tested or for your test results, or is you test positive. Further information is available at: