Coronavirus (COVID-19): testing and contact tracing

Everyone with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should get tested. 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

Anyone who develops the symptoms of COVID-19 is advised immediately to book a test and isolate until the results are known. 

If your test is positive you will have to isolate for a total of 10 days.

When to get tested

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

On days one to seven, you can get tested at a test site or at home. If you’re ordering a home test kit on day seven, do it by 3.00 pm.

On day eight, you need to go to a test site - it’s too late to order a home test kit.

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.

How to get tested

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

These are:

Getting tested at a test centre

People with symptoms can be tested at one of the drive or walk through test centres, or at a mobile testing unit.

If you have questions about a test you've booked or are having trouble booking a test, you can call 119.

Testing is by appointment only.

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

Instructions for the test kit with translations are available on the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

Testing for children

If a child needs tested, a parent/ guardian 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:

Getting your results

The testing programme aims to provide results within 24 to 48 hours of taking a test at a test site.

Results through the home delivery service may take up to 72 hours.

Testing for other groups

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

A regular programme of COVID-19 testing for all care home residents and staff in Northern Ireland is in operation.

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.

Workplace testing for those with no symptoms

Workplace testing for workers in key sectors within Northern Ireland with no COVID-19 symptoms (asymptomatic) is now available.

You can find out more about these tests, including how to get them, at this link:

About contact tracing

Contact tracing is a method to help prevent the further spread of infections such as COVID-19.

When someone has a positive test, the PHA’s contact tracing service aims to let people they have been in close contact with know, so they can avoid passing it on.

If you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you will receive a text message or call from ‘HSCtracing’ instructing you to self-isolate, until the end of the 10-day period.

Since 19 April, you will receive a code and be asked to book a test at a drive through or walk in site. You should book this test as soon as possible. 

If this test is positive, PHA will contact you to give you advice and ask you about your own contacts. 

If this test is negative you must continue to isolate until your ten days are complete.   

StopCOVID NI app

The app has been designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland by anonymously contacting other app users who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

It will help contact people you don’t know that may not be warned through the Digital Self-Trace (DST) service or by the manual contact tracers (see section on how Test, Trace and Protect works).

The app does not collect or store your information and so can't share this with the contact tracing team or others.

Further information on the app is available:

How Test, Trace and Protect works

If you have coronavirus symptoms

Step one: isolate

As soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, you should self-isolate until the test results are known.  Then, dependent on results, isolate for a total of 10 days if you’re the patient or household member. 

Step two: test

Order or book a coronavirus test immediately. Call 119 if you can't do this online.

Step three: results

If your test is positive you must complete the remainder of your 10-day self-isolation, and only stop isolation if you have had at least 48 hours without fever.

Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 10 days from when you started having symptoms. 

After you get your positive test result from the NHS, you will receive two further SMS (text) messages (steps four and five).

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

Step four: let the StopCOVID NI app know

The first text message after you receive your positive test result from the NHS will be from ‘HSCresult’ with a test code to add to the StopCOVID NI app, if you have it.

Once you let the app know you have tested positive, it will send out an alert to other app users who have been in close contact with you to advise them to self-isolate. 

The app will never share your identity or location with others – it does not collect or store any information about you.

The code in the text message from ‘HSCresult’ is for app users only. If you do not have the app, you will not need to use this code.

Step five: use Digital Self-Trace to share contacts

The second text message after you receive your positive test result from the NHS will be from ‘HSCtracing’ for the Digital Self-Trace (DST) service, which contains a DST code for you to help the PHA trace your contacts.

The PHA can then warn your close contacts as quickly as possible that they might have become infected and give them guidance.

Enter the DST code on the trace.covid-19.hscni.net website.

You'll be asked for some information about:

  • yourself and your symptoms
  • the people you've been in contact with
  • the places you have been

If you can’t use the DST service or you choose not to, a contact tracer will try to call you from the telephone number 028 9536 8888 to get all the details needed to protect others and reduce the spread of COVID-19. They will ask for the same information as the digital service.

Your details will not be shared with those whose details you provide. The information you give will only be used for the purpose of contact tracing and learning about the disease.

Additional information and resources

For information about how the service works and how it protects your privacy, see:

Being identified as a 'close contact'

Step one: alert

You'll be alerted by the contact tracing team if someone who has tested positive for coronavirus has told us that you have been in close contact with them.

For most people, the alert will come by a text message from ‘HSCtracing’.

Alerts are also sent by the StopCOVID NI app. This information is not shared with the contact tracing teams.

Step two: isolate

As a close contact you'll be asked to self-isolate for 10 days.

It’s important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell. It can take up to 10 days for the symptoms of infection to develop and some people with the virus don’t display any symptoms at all.

Self-isolation is 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 three: book a test

From 19 April, if you are identified as a close contact you will receive a code and be asked to book a test at a drive through or walk in site. You should book this test as soon as possible. 

If this test is positive, PHA will contact you to give you advice and ask you about your own contacts. 

If this test is negative you must continue to isolate until your ten days are complete.   

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.

More useful links

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