Coronavirus (COVID-19): testing and contact tracing

Everyone over the age of five years 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.

How to get tested

Anyone who develops the symptoms of COVID-19 is advised to immediately self-isolate for seven 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

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
  • City of Derry Rugby Club test centre, Judges Rd, Derry/ Londonderry, BT47 6LN
  • Craigavon MOT centre, Craigavon, BT63 5RY
  • 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 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:

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 by telephone and asking them who they have been in contact with.

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.

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 seven 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 seven-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 test positive for coronavirus, the Public Health Agency (PHA) will call you with instructions of how to share details of people you have been in close, recent contact with and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it.

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. The alert will come by a phone call from the PHA, the number may come up as ‘withheld’.

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

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 seven days.

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

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 use the self-referral portal to sign up and book a test if you or a member of your family are symptomatic:

Employers of essential workers can also organise testing on their behalf. Further information on how to do this is available on gov.uk.

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