What happens when you take a PCR test? Omicron variant test explained

What will you need to do when taking a PCR test and how is it different from a lateral flow test?

By jimmy johnson
Friday, 3rd December 2021, 3:06 pm
John Devlin 02/12/2021
John Devlin 02/12/2021

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test sites have been set up across the country to help contain the spread of the new COVID-19 variant – Omicron.

The main difference between a PCR test and a lateral flow test is that a lateral flow test is for people who are asymptomatic. If you’re showing symptoms of COVID-19, or have been in contact with someone who has, then you’ll require a PCR test.

Furthermore, you’ll have to travel to a PCR testing site to get tested – although special cases may be able to order one to their home. Essential workers will be given the highest priority when it comes to home testing.

Before taking the test, you’ll be required to sanitise your hands. Following this, the procedure is similar to a lateral flow test. In the test kit, you’ll find a swab which you use to rub on your tonsils (or, if you’ve had them taken out, the same approximate area where they once were).

Following this, you’ll need to put the swab up your nose. It’s recommended to not push it any further in than 2.5cm - 3cm. It’s an unpleasant experience, but it’s vital for identifying the spread of the virus. Then, place the swab in the tube provided and make sure it’s tightly sealed.

Your test can then be taken to a laboratory for analysis, using newly developed technology that has cut the amount of time it takes to identify COVID variants of concern (for example, Omicron). If your test returns positive, then you’ll receive a text or phone call from the NHS advising you to self-isolate immediately. You should receive your results on the same day as your test, but it can take up to three days. If it takes any longer than this, you’re advised to call 119.

In addition, don’t turn up to take a PCR test without an appointment, as you’ll be turned away. Currently, it’s appointment only. You’re also strongly advised to wear a face mask for the duration of your stay.

Finally, if you don’t feel well enough to drive to the test site, get someone who you live with to drive you there if possible.