Coronavirus: Can I get tested to see if I have Covid-19?
The UK government wants to increase the number of people tested for coronavirus.
Currently, between 5,000 and 6,000 people are tested daily. But by the end of March it wants to test 10,000 people a day, rising to 25,000 by the end of April.
Can I get tested for coronavirus?
At the moment, only patients in hospital with flu-like symptoms are being routinely tested for the virus.
However, there have been calls to do more tests, especially for NHS staff and other key workers.
Is a new test being developed?
The government’s priority is to increase the number of people being tested to see if they currently have the disease. These are known as antigen tests.
But scientists are also looking at tests which can check whether someone has had the disease in the past. These are known as antibody tests.
This could help work out how widespread the disease has been and whether people are safe to go back to work.
The government said it has bought 3.5 million of these tests and plans to make them available “very soon”, if they can be proved to work.
However, it will not be available quickly, according to the government’s chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty.
“I do not think – and I want to be clear – that this is something we’ll suddenly be ordering on the internet next week,” he said.
How does a test work?
There are different methods of testing people for coronavirus.
A swab down the throat (PCR test) is used in the antigen test, which shows if people have the virus.
A blood test, taken by a prick of the finger, is used for the antibody test, to see if someone has already had the disease.
Can I buy a private test?
You can, but Public Health England advises against it, as it says there is not yet enough information about them.
“It is not known whether either a positive or negative result is reliable,” reads a statement on its website.
A private healthcare clinic in London defended its decision to charge £375 for a test.
Reports suggest other firms have also increased the price of their testing kits.
What is the UK doing?
In total, 90,436 people in the UK had been tested for coronavirus as of 24 March.
There are two main reasons for testing people – to diagnose them individually, and to try to understand the spread of the virus. This is called surveillance testing, but is not being done by the UK at present.
Not testing more widely means that many people might be self-isolating for no good reason, including NHS workers. Healthcare staff have also raised concerns that they could be spreading the infection unknowingly.
Should the UK be testing more people?
The UK does not have the resources of equipment or staff to do mass testing at the moment.
However, it has done more testing than many other countries, although not more than the most rigorous testers like South Korea.
The UK passed its 2,500th case on 18 March and had tested 828 people per million of its population. At the same point in their outbreaks, Italy had conducted 386 tests per million citizens, while South Korea had done more than 2,000 tests per million.