Coronavirus (COVID-19): testing and contact tracing

Everyone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) is now eligible for testing. This page has information on how to get a test and the contact tracing programme in Northern Ireland.

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); OR
  • 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); OR
  • a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste

When to get tested

The advice from the Public Health Agency is that you should get tested in the first three days of coronavirus symptoms appearing, although testing is considered effective up until day five.

You can complete an online form at the following link to find out if you should or should not get tested, and if you should, what type of test you will need.

'Test, Trace and Protect' Video

The following video is a television ad for the 'Test, Trace and Protect' programme running in Northern Ireland:

The video is also available with British and Irish Sign Language on the following page:

How to get tested

Anyone who develops the symptoms of COVID-19 is advised to immediately self-isolate for 10 days and to arrange to be tested without delay.

There are a number of ways a person with symptoms of the virus can get tested in Northern Ireland.

These are:

Getting tested

There have been issues with the digital portal impacting a small number of cases, causing testing slots to be offered at sites outside Northern Ireland. DHSC London are working on a fix that makes sure the allocation of slots takes into account journey times. If you are trying to book a test and are unable to do so, or, are offered a location that is not convenient, you  should wait a few hours and try again.

People with symptoms can be tested at one of four drive through test centres. If you have questions about a test you've booked or are having trouble booking a test, you can call 119.

Testing at these sites is by appointment only.

Testing for the general public is currently conducted in drive-through sites operating at:

  • SSE test centre, Odyssey Car park, Belfast BT3 9QQ
  • Lycra car park (near The Rec Club), Maydown Works, 60 Clooney Road, Derry/ Londonderry, BT47 6TP
  • Central Sports Arena, Kernan Hill Road, Craigavon , BT63 5PY
  • St Angelo Airport, 62 Killadeas Road, Trory, Enniskillen BT94 2FP

All centres are open 9.30am – 5.30pm, seven days a week. 

In addition to these fixed test sites, mobile testing units are available which provide temporary testing sites that can be set up quickly in response to local demand.

The mobile testing units are open from 10.30am to 3.30pm and can be booked through the normal booking channels. You will see the locations across Northern Ireland as you book a test or alternatively ask staff if you call 119.

The test procedure is a ‘self-test’ process for all tests completed through the national testing programme.

A video with instructions for how to take swab samples for COVID-19 testing is available on GOV.UK:

Please note that your test will be self-administered – you will be directed by a member of staff on site:

Instructions for the test kit with translations are available on the Public Health Agency website:

Testing for children

Everyone in Northern Ireland with symptoms of coronavirus is now eligible for testing.   If a child is to be tested, parents/guardians will need to arrive at the site prepared to swab the child.

A video on how to use a Coronavirus (COVID-19) test kit on a child is available:

Ordering a self-test kit

People with symptoms of the virus can also order a postal self-test kit. The test kit will be posted to the home of the person who has symptoms of COVID-19.

A video and instructions for how to take swab samples for COVID-19 testing is available on the GOV.UK website.

Getting your results

The testing programme aims to provide results within 72 hours of taking a test.

About contact tracing

Contact tracing is a method to help prevent the further spread of infections such as COVID-19. It works by identifying a confirmed case, contacting them and asking them who they have been in contact with.

As part of the Public Health Agency's (PHA) new contact tracing text service, the majority of contacts will be alerted solely by text. If you receive a text message from ‘HSCtracing’ instructing you to self-isolate you should follow this advice immediately and follow through until the end of the 14 day period.

To be considered at risk you will have to have been in close contact with a confirmed case and have spent more than 15 minutes (the ‘15 minute rule’) with them without any personal protection (see sections on how test, trace and protect works).

The person with a confirmed infection and their close contacts will be given advice on what to do about managing symptoms and of the need to self-isolate to prevent any wider spread of the virus.

StopCOVID NI app

The new StopCOVID NI app will alert users if they have been in close contact with other users who have tested positive for Covid-19.

The app was designed using the Information Commissioners Office “Privacy by Design” principles and therefore uses only anonymised information in its operation.

Further information on the App is available:

How test, trace and protect works

Part 1 - for someone with coronavirus symptoms

Step 1: isolate

As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate for at least 10 days. Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

Step 2: test

You should order a coronavirus test immediately, see booking a test above, or call 119 if you have no internet access.

Step 3: results

If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your 10-day self-isolation, and have had at least 48 hours without fever. Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. 

If your test is negative, and you have had at least 48 hours without fever, you and other household members no longer need to isolate.

Step 4: share contacts

If you receive a positive test result you will be contacted by the PHA’s Contact Tracing Service in the first instance by text message, asking you to enter your close contacts online using the HSCNI ‘Help us trace your contacts’ service.

This is so they can warn your close contacts as quickly as possible that they might have become infected and give them guidance.

They may call (from (028) 9536 8888) those who do not wish to use the web service or those who cannot use the service for other reasons.

Part 2 - for those contacted if you have been in close contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus 

Step 1: alert

You will be alerted by the PHA if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. For most people, the alert will come by a text as part of the new contact tracing text service.

Step 2: isolate

 As a close contact you will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days, depending on when you last came into contact with the person. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell, because it can take up to 14 days for the symptoms of infection to develop.

This will be crucial to avoid you unknowingly spreading the virus to others. If you have no symptoms, your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene.

If you have been identified as a close contact, you should not get tested unless you develop symptoms. A negative test does not change your need to isolate.

Step 3: test if needed

 As a close contact if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household should self-isolate at home and you should book a coronavirus test or call 119 if you have no internet access.

If your test is positive you are then a case of infection and you must continue to self-isolate for 10 days.

 If your test is negative, you must still complete the full self-isolation period for close contacts which is 14 days. 

Contact tracing guidance for the hospitality industry 

Guidance for the hospitality industry in Northern Ireland on maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to help support Test, Trace and Protect is available on the Department of Health website.

Testing for other groups

There is separate information on testing below for the following groups:

  • Health and Social Care (HSC) staff members
  • care home residents and staff
  • primary care workers
  • essential workers

Testing for HSC staff members

HSC staff should contact their line manager for details on how to arrange testing.

Testing for care home residents and staff

Testing for COVID-19 was available to all care home residents and staff in Northern Ireland in May and June.

Testing for primary care workers

Referrals for testing for primary care staff can be booked online.

Primary care staff refers to all staff working in: 

  • GP Practices, GP out-of-hours services and COVID-19 centres
  • Community pharmacies
  • General Dental Service practices and urgent dental care centres
  • Optometrists
  • Care home staff and domiciliary workers

Some Trusts are also able to facilitate testing for primary care staff in their testing facilities.

Testing for essential workers

Testing may be prioritised for essential workers who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic, or have household members who are symptomatic. Testing is also available to symptomatic people who live with essential workers.

Essential workers includes, but is not limited to, people in:

  • roles necessary for critical national infrastructure to continue to operate – for example, postal services, transport sectors, voluntary support staff
  • roles necessary to support the health and wellbeing of the community - for example, funeral directors, refuse collectors, medical, energy, utility, transport and food supplies
  • any government department
  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI)

Further guidance on who is considered an essential worker is available on nibusinessinfo.co.uk.

Essential workers can book a test via the GOV.UK website:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine research registry

The NHS COVID-19 vaccine registry allows members of the public to register their interest and be contacted to participate in clinical studies.

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