MILLIONS of students and their families will be taking Covid lateral flow tests from today, as schools reopen.
The rapid tests are able to return results in just 30 minutes and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
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Workplaces can also get testing for their employees by registering with the Government.
Lateral flow tests are part of the Prime Minister's path to normality, and are hoped to also be used for large sporting events and nightclubs in the future.
What is a Covid lateral flow test?
A Covid lateral flow test uses a swab from a patient's nose or throat to quickly determine if they are infected with coronavirus.
They are being used to check if people have the virus but are not showing symptoms.
It is hoped that by identifying these people, and asking them to isolate at home if they test positive, the virus will stop spreading as quickly.
Around one in three people with coronavirus don’t have symptoms, which means they could be spreading the virus without knowing.
Free NHS Covid testing is always available for people who are showing signs of the virus – such as a cough, high temperature or loss of taste and smell.
The lateral flow tests don't need to be sent off to the lab – like the PCR tests used by the NHS for those with symptoms – making them ideal for "on the spot" results.
How do I use a Covid lateral flow test?
The testing kit comes with instructions and is fairly simple to use.
It first involves taking a swab of the throat and nose and dipping it into a solution.
This is then placed onto a paper pad on the device – that looks like a pregnancy stick.
Inside the device is a strip of test paper that changes colour if coronavirus proteins are in the sample.
Usually, one line next to the "C" means negative, two lines next to "C" and "T" means positive, and no lines or one next to "T" means the test is void.
How accurate is a Covid lateral flow test?
Lateral flow tests are not as reliable as the PCR tests used by the NHS.
The Department of Health says because the tests have been rigorously assessed by scientists, it means they are "accurate, reliable and successfully identify those with Covid-19 who don’t show symptoms".
But the tests were not designed to look for Covid in people without symptoms, but for people who did have symptoms.
It means the results are not 100 per cent correct.
The Government website states that "when a person has low levels of virus in their system, lateral flow tests are less sensitive than some of the other tests we use, such as PCR tests".
Getting a negative result does not mean a person is not infected with Covid-19 – so even with a negative result, people still need to follow social distancing guidance.
People have been known to take the test on one day and become unwell with Covid-19 the next.
Some researchers have previously suggested that people need better awareness of the efficacy of lateral flow tests.
Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham, said in January: “Most of us have never done a diagnostic test in our lives ourselves, and we would expect a positive to mean ‘yes’ and a negative to mean ‘no’.
“But here a positive means ‘probably’ and a negative means ‘we really can’t tell’.”
How is lateral flow testing being used in schools?
Students in England will be tested for Covid-19 three times in the first two weeks of school.
After that, they'll be given two tests each week to use at home.
Testing is voluntary and children will only be tested in school if a parent or carer has given consent.
The Government recommends, however, that anyone "going to a school or college premises," or anyone who shares a bubble or household with someone who is "should also get tested".
Pupils will not be stopped from returning to school if they do not agree to be tested, or are unable to take a test.
Staff or pupils who test positive should self-isolate.
If the test is done at home, they should also book a second test at a local test centre to confirm the result.
Boris Johnson said: "We are being cautious in our approach so that we do not undo the progress we have made so far."
Government adviser Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said taking the tests will be "particularly important" in the coming weeks.
"We know lateral flow tests highlight the people who are most infectious and most likely to transmit the virus, and using these is way of finding asymptomatic people rapidly," she said.
She admitted the tests are "uncomfortable" – but says her 12-year-old has taken several without issue.
Back in December the accuracy of the quick tests was questioned after they were used for a community testing rollout in Liverpool.
Prof Deeks sparked concern after sharing unpublished test results on social media which suggested half of people with Covid were wrongly told they did not have it.
However, the Liverpool trial found that regular, rapid testing cut transmission by 90 per cent and can help Britain to "get back to normal," Health Minister Lord Bethel said back in November.
Susan Hopkins, who is Covid-19 strategic response director to Public Health England,insisted in December the tests can be "reliably used" to detect coronavirus, but admitted they are not a "silver bullet".
Where can I get a Covid lateral flow test?
Secondary school pupils, college students, teachers and staff will be given their kits by their school.
The “households” of pupils in school and college – this includes family members, childcare and people in support bubbles – are also being asked to take the test twice a week.
These people can get their tests through a number of different routes, including: through their employer if they are offering testing to employees, at a local test site, collecting a home test kit from a test site or ordering kits online.
They can also call 119 if they can't get online.
Some employees will be able to get a Covid test at work, after all businesses were granted access to the scheme on March 6.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said so far more than 3,500 businesses had signed up to offer workplace testing programmes, and more than 14,000 had registered their interest in offering rapid testing.
Businesses have until March 31 to register for the scheme, which will remain free until the end of June.
All local authorities in England are also offering rapid lateral flow testing for small businesses if they are unable to offer it at the workplace.
People can use this website to check if they can get a test from their local council.
What should you do if the result is positive?
People with a positive result should self-isolate immediately.
They should also get a free NHS PCR test to confirm the result.
Pupils, students and staff should tell their school or college if they test positive.
For the first three tests undertaken by secondary school pupils and college students under supervision at their education establishment, a follow-up PCR test is not necessary but the pupil will still be required to self-isolate if they test positive.
Everyone is being asked to report results – negative and positive – to NHS Test and Trace on the same day they take it, either by inputting their results online or by calling 119.
This is so public health officials can keep tracking the virus in local areas.
Can you buy a Covid lateral flow test?
Yes, you can buy Covid lateral flow tests online.
However, the accuracy of an online test kit that has not been approved by a regulator cannot be guaranteed and a test result could be incorrect.
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