The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a time for us to protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our country.

We have gone through worse as a nation and we hope that we will emerge soon with a new vaccine to create widespread immunity.

We are all susceptible. It has been estimated that 40-70% of us will be infected, with mortality rates increasing significantly for those people over 70 yrs.

Covid-19 Facts

  • Is easily transmitted between people through coughs and sneezing
  • Can remain active on a surface for 2-3 days
  • People can transmit the virus from 2-14 days after exposure
  • 80% infected have mild or no symptoms

Due to the lack of testing we do not have accurate mortality rates. Testing may also help the economy get back on its feet, as many of those who have had the virus could go back to work or offer peace of mind so that key workers can carry on working.

What sort of tests are out there?

PCR tests

99.9% accurate. PCR tests look for genetic sequencing that is specific to Covid-19.  Throat and nose swabs are routinely taken, which are then tested at UKAS laboratories. The labs use Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which takes several hours. The test detects and amplifies viral genetic material called RNA which can be detected at a very stage of the infection, before antibodies have developed. Results are then available within 2-3 days. These tests are the most reliable and accurate, but they are labour intensive, time consuming and expensive. New test machines are currently being manufactured which will speed up diagnosis times and allow for more testing.

Antibody tests

98% accurate. Identifies antibodies in the bloodstream, which your body produces in response to the coronavirus. It’s not useful to determine whether someone has Covid-19 but identifies whether a person has had coronavirus. Antibodies are produced at a later stage of infection and the body then caries those antibodies after the infection has gone. These test kits are small and simple. They take a quick sample of blood and provide results in 15 minutes.

Antigen tests

Being tested. The antigen test detects antigens in the virus, which trigger the immune system. It can be detected in the blood before antibodies are made. Antigens can be detected shortly after infection. It is not as accurate as a PCR test, but it does show positive at an earlier stage than the Antibodies test. Again, a simple sample of blood will show results quickly on a kit.


The UK PCR tests are the gold standard for diagnosing infectious agents, being FDA approved. They have allowed for consistent data but have stretched capacity due to the vast scale of the outbreak and the speed of its development.

The concept of the antibody and antigen tests are well established, but the covid19 tests are new. We still need to understand their accuracy. With the antibody test we still do not clearly understand how long after the infection a sample becomes positive and how long it stays positive. Even though they are less accurate, their speed and versatility, without having to use trained staff, make them an invaluable test. 

There is no perfect test and its important to understand the limitations that they are relying on to show a test result.

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