COVID-19 test and trace: Your questions answered

The NHS has introduced a test and trace service to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. This article, based on Government and NHS guidance, aims to help you answer common questions people may have about how the test and trace service works.

What is the test and trace service?

The NHS test and trace service ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus. It also includes targeted asymptomatic testing of NHS and social care staff and care home residents.

The service helps trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus and, if necessary, notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus.

How can I get a COVID-19 test?

If you have symptoms, get a test as soon as possible. Members of the public can order a test through the NHS website.

If you are an essential worker or an employer, please visit:

If you don’t have access to the internet, you can order a test by phoning 119.

How long before I get my results?

The Government aims to provide results within 48 hours of taking a test, but some results may take longer. Results will be delivered by text, email or phone and will include instructions as to what to do next.

Instructions will include:

  • A link to the NHS test and trace website
  • An ask to create a confidential account where people can record details about their recent close contacts.

If people do not have internet access or if they don’t complete the online process, one of the contact tracers will phone to gather this information.

What happens with my information?

It will help the NHS to contact people who have been exposed to coronavirus and explain what they must do to help prevent the further spread of the virus.

Find out more: Government website.

How does it work?

The NHS test and trace service aims to help reduce the spread of the infection and save lives. If people follow the actions set out below, they will directly help to contain the virus by reducing its spread.

Steps people need to take:

  • if you develop COVID-19 symptoms you must continue to follow the rules to self-isolate with other members of your household and order a test.
  • if you test positive for coronavirus, you should share information promptly about your recent contacts through the NHS test and trace service to help alert others who may need to self-isolate.
  • if you have had recent close contact with someone who has tested positive with coronavirus, you should self-isolate if the NHS test and trace service advises you do so.

What does the COVID-19 test involve?

The test involves taking a swab from the nose and the back of the throat, which can be done by the person or with assistance.

There are now many potential ways to be tested:

  • drive-through regional testing sites
  • mobile testing units
  • test kits delivered to your home
  • hospital-based testing for NHS patients and staff
  • dedicated testing centres in other care settings (for example, care homes)

When you order a test, you will get information on the options available to you.

The Government website has more information on getting tested.

When should people self-isolate?

Anyone with coronavirus symptoms, or those that live in the same household as somebody who does, should self-isolate and order a test.

The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature).
  • new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

For more information, read the further guidance on symptoms.

What should employers do?

Employers should play their part to make their workplaces as safe as possible, by encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and by supporting them when in isolation.

Although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

The Government has produced guidance for employers and businesses about to the test and trace service.

Find out more

Please refer to the Government and NHS websites for further information and advice about the new test and trace service.


Healthwatch England – June 2020