How long do Covid test results take? Time it takes for NHS and private travel tests to be returned - and if you need to self isolate

Boots, Lloyds and Doctorcall all carry out private coronavirus tests

Hundreds of thousands of test results are being carried out everyday in the UK (Getty Images)
Hundreds of thousands of test results are being carried out everyday in the UK (Getty Images)

While the UK is embracing the arrival of a potentially pandemic-ending vaccine, the need to test is still paramount with the rollout set to take months.

The wait for test results can be anxiety-inducing and frustrating with some test participants required to self-isolate until they receive their test results.

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And with the Christmas period approaching many are anxious that they will be required to self-isolate for an extended period of time, potentially missing out on celebrations with family members.

While the UK’s testing system was plagued with backlogs in the pandemic’s early stages, the waiting period has significantly reduced.

When should I get an NHS test?

Members of the public are advised to sign up for a test in the event that:

- they have a high temperature

- they have a new, continuous cough

- have lost their sense of smell or taste or it’s changed

- have been asked to by a local council

- are taking part in a government pilot project

How long does it take for a test result to arrive?

According to the NHS, most people get their result the next day, but it may take up to 3 days.

Citizens are advised that if they haven’t received their result by day 6 they should contact their coronavirus testing contact centre (0300 303 2713 in Scotland, open between 7am and 11pm).

Do I need to self-isolate while I wait for my results?

If you had a test because you had symptoms, you and anyone you live with must stay at home until you get your result.

Anyone in your support bubble must also stay at home until you get your result if you've been in close contact with them since your symptoms started or during the 48 hours before they started.

What types of result are there?

There are three types of result, these are: negative, positive, and unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive

What to do in the event of a positive result

A positive result means you had coronavirus when the test was done.

If your test result is positive, you must self-isolate immediately.

The NHS advises that “if you had a test because you had symptoms, self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started.”

If you did not have symptoms self-isolate for 10 days from when you had the test.

What to do in the event of a negative result

A negative result means the test did not find coronavirus.

You do not need to self-isolate if your test is negative, as long as:

- everyone you live with who has symptoms tests negative

- everyone in your support bubble who has symptoms tests negative

- you were not told to self-isolate for 14 days by NHS Test and Trace – see what to do if you've been told to self-isolate

- you have not travelled to the UK from a place with a high coronavirus risk – see how to self-isolate when you travel to the UK on GOV.UK

- you feel well – if you feel unwell, stay at home until you’re feeling better

What to do in the event of a borderline result

An unclear, void, borderline or inconclusive result means it's not possible to say if you had coronavirus when the test was done.

Get another test as soon as possible if this happens.

If you had a test because you had symptoms, you must keep self-isolating and have another test: within 5 days of your symptoms starting (Scotland and Wales) or within 8 days of your symptoms starting (England and Northern Ireland).

How long does it take for test results to arrive from private companies?

Some who are not experiencing coronavirus symptoms may opt to take a test from a private source.

The waiting time for results from these major outlets is as follows:

Boots: 48 hours

Lloyds Pharmacy: up to three days

The Private Harley Street Clinic: between 24 and 48 hours after test

Assure Screening: within 24 hours

Doctorcall: within three days