Coronavirus (COVID-19): Testing

Testing is part of the national Test and Protect approach to containing the virus.

Who can be tested

Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should be tested. You can book a test for:

  • yourself
  • someone you care for
  • a child in your care

Key workers, and anyone in their household with symptoms, can access testing through their employer in the first instance and will be given priority.

You can also book a test if:

  • you’ve been asked to get a test by a local council or health protection team
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project
  • you’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result
  • you’ve been identified as a close contact through Test and Protect or the Protect Scotland app

Key workers in Scotland

For the purpose of testing, the Scottish Government has divided key workers into 5 priority groups:

  • Priority Group 1A: Staff delivering NHS services, providing social care to protect and care for the most vulnerable, all NHS staff and independent contractors working for the NHS
  • Priority Group 1B: Staff with face-to-face roles in residential institutions with people in the care of the state and those who are working in essential services with niche roles, where service resilience is at risk
  • Priority Group 2: Essential workers in critical national infrastructure fundamental for safety and security, and life-line services
  • Priority Group 3: Staff directly involved in delivering other essential services
  • Priority Group 4: Staff and volunteers in third or public sector organisations including unpaid carers, and staff in nationally or locally significant industry important to economic sustainability and growth

Health and care workers

If you’re a health or social care key worker currently self-isolating because you or someone in your household has coronavirus symptoms, and you’re otherwise able to work, contact your employer about testing. Your employer will be able to advise if anyone in your household with symptoms is eligible to be tested.

Public Health Scotland has published information and guidance for care home settings (adults and older people) (PDF, 1.2 MB).

When to test

You should get tested in the first 3 days of symptoms appearing, although testing is effective until day 5. You won’t normally be tested after day 5 unless it’s for a specific reason. This will be agreed on a case-by-case basis.

You can also book a test if:

  • you’ve been asked to get a test by a local council or health protection team
  • you’re taking part in a government pilot project
  • you’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result

If you’re a close contact of someone who has tested positive

You may have been advised to book a test because you’re a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

If you live with this person, you should book your test 3 to 5 days after their symptoms started.

If you do not live with this person, you should book your test 3 to 5 days after the day you last spent time with them.

If you can’t book your test within 5 days, book it as soon as possible.

If you’re a close contact, but you’ve already tested positive in the past 90 days, you should not get tested.

All close contacts must still isolate for 10 days, whether their test result is positive or negative. As a close contact you cannot leave self-isolation if your test comes back negative. A test provides a point in time assessment of whether someone had the infection when the test was taken. It cannot indicate whether someone is incubating the disease, and therefore may go on to develop it after a test is taken. It’s for this reason that close contacts must complete the required 10 days of self-isolation.

Access testing

There are drive-through testing sites, mobile testing units and walk-through test centres across Scotland. Home testing kits are also available.

For a full list of testing sites, read Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): getting tested in Scotland

Walk-through test centres

NHS Scotland's Test & Protect: Walk In Test Centre Guide (

Walk-through test centres are easy to travel to by walking or cycling. You don’t need to drive to them.

If you are attending a walk-through test centre you must:

  • stay 2 metres apart from others
  • maintain good hygiene
  • wear a face covering throughout

You must not travel to walk-through test centres by taxi or public transport.

Walk-through testing centres have been designed so people can move around them safely and to prevent the spread of the virus. There are other ways to access testing – such as home test kits and drive-through sites – that are more suitable if you're unable to wear a face covering.

At the walk-through test centre, you will self-test in a booth. The test involves taking a swab of your nose and the back of your throat. Your test sample will then be collected by staff and sent to a lab for analysis.

Testing for children aged 11 and under

If you are a parent or guardian of a child aged 11 and under, you will have to swab test your child.

This applies whether you:

  • get a home test kit
  • go to a test site

Priority for health and care workers

Health and social care workers will continue to be primarily routed through NHS testing at local NHS facilities. However, if there are times when NHS testing capacity is at its maximum, then full use should be made of the testing opportunities offered by the UK Government Programme. 

Health and social care workers who are self-employed – such as personal care assistants – should access testing through the UK Testing Programme self-referral portal route for essential workers.

Types of coronavirus test

The 2 types of coronavirus test currently being used regularly are:

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
  • Lateral Flow Device (LFD)

PCR tests

If you have symptoms or are asked to get a test for a specific reason, you’ll book a PCR test using our Access to testing guide.

PCR tests detect the genetic material of a virus and are the most reliable coronavirus tests. It takes some time to get the results because they are usually processed in a laboratory.

LFD tests

LFD tests detect proteins in coronavirus. They are simple and quick to use. LFD tests are not as accurate as PCR tests and are mainly used in people who do not have symptoms.

LFD tests are being offered to certain groups. You cannot book a LFD test through our Access to testing guide.

If you have a positive LFD test, you should have a PCR test to confirm the result within 48 hours and isolate while waiting for the result.

How to get tested

Use this guide to find out how to get tested for coronavirus.

Self-help guide

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Phone the National Testing Centre (0300 303 2713) if you can’t access the test form online.

Test results

If you have coronavirus symptoms you must isolate before your test and while waiting for your results.

The test will confirm if a person has the virus. It won’t confirm whether they have had it and recovered.

Results are sent by text or email to whoever booked the test within 48 hours.

Positive result

If you test positive you should follow all the guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection

If you have symptoms, you and your household must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your symptoms started.

If you have had a positive test but have had no symptoms, you and your household must self-isolate for 10 days from the day your test was taken, whether this was an LFD or a PCR test. However, if you develop symptoms in the days after your test, you should re-start your own and your household’s isolation from the day your symptoms start.

A positive LFD test result also means you must complete 10 days isolation, unless this is followed by a PCR test and the result is negative. If the result is negative, follow the advice for a negative result.

Contact tracing form

Someone from the Test and Protect contact tracing team will contact you to help identify who you’ve been in close contact with.

To help with this you will receive a link to a secure online form with your test result so you can share who you have been in close contact with or any places you have been.

How contact tracing works

The contract tracing form explained (

Video explaining how the Test and Protect online contact tracing form works.

Negative result

Even if you have had a negative result, it’s important to still apply caution and you should still self-isolate if you have travelled from a country that requires you to quarantine on arrival.

You can return to work after a negative test result if:

  • everyone in your household with symptoms receives a negative test result too
  • you are well enough and have not had a fever for 48 hours

You should discuss your return to work with your employer, and should only return to work if you cannot do your work from home.

You cannot return to work after a negative test result if you have:

  • been told you are a close contact by the test and protect service
  • returned from overseas and are still within your 10 day self-isolation period
  • a negative test but someone in your house has a positive test, or has symptoms and has not been tested yet

If, after returning to work, you develop symptoms you should follow our self-isolation guidance.

Test could not be read

You may have had a ‘could not be read’ test result. This means it’s not possible to say if you had the virus when the test was done. You’ll need to get another test as soon as possible.

You must continue to isolate if you:

  • have, or develop, symptoms of coronavirus
  • have been told you are a close contact by the test and protect service
  • live with someone who has symptoms or has had a positive test result

Repeat testing

Repeating testing to show you no longer have coronavirus is not currently recommended for the general public.

The test can stay positive for several weeks after you’ve had coronavirus but this doesn’t mean that you are still infectious. You may end self-isolation after 10 days as long as you feel better and no longer have a high temperature.

If your employer has told you that you need to be re-tested, you should follow their advice on when you can return to work.

Because this is a new disease, it is not yet known how much immunity people will develop following an episode of infection, or how long any immunity will last. If you recover from an episode of coronavirus confirmed by testing, and you later develop new symptoms, you still need to follow all the advice about self-isolation and household isolation again. 

Antibody tests

Antibody testing is being used in Scotland for population research and, where appropriate, clinical management of patients. You can request an antibody test, but this will be at the discretion of your clinician and depend on whether this will affect your treatment or clinical management.

Antibody tests can show if you have had the virus, but a positive test does not mean you are immune from further infection or from being able to infect others. If you have recovered from a coronavirus infection you should continue to follow physical distancing measures and self-isolation advice if you develop new symptoms to protect others.

More about antibody testing for coronavirus is available through GOV.UK.

Proof of a negative test for overseas travel

You won’t be tested for coronavirus unless you have symptoms or work in certain roles and need to travel for work. This includes those who work in care homes and selected groups of healthcare workers, and only if this has been agreed as a policy or occupational health decision.

You won’t be tested if you need to prove you don’t have coronavirus as a condition of travel.

If you need to travel for work and require evidence of a test, speak to your occupational health adviser.


You can provide feedback or make a complaint about your coronavirus testing experience by emailing NHS National Services Scotland

Further information