Enhanced testing for COVID-19 variants

The Public Health Agency routinely carries out surveillance for COVID-19 ‘variants’. All viruses change over time and variants happen when these changes accumulate.

If we identify a variant we may conduct enhanced testing for anyone living in the area. This is to help suppress any onward spread of the virus.

We strongly encourage everybody who lives in an area undergoing enhanced testing to continue to follow the national guidance in the usual way, but to take a test, whether or not they have symptoms.

What does enhanced testing involve?

Enhanced testing is increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations. The process can differ depending on assessment of local requirements.

It involves testing of people who do not have any symptoms of COVID-19. Please note you do not have to isolate if you do not have symptoms unless you test positive for COVID-19.

Tests from all of these areas are sent for genomic sequencing. Genomic sequencing is the process of testing a sample of the virus to map its genetic sequence and is used to identify variants.

If you need to take part in surge testing you will be informed by the Public Health Agency.

Why are we carrying out enhanced testing?

We use enhanced testing and genomic sequencing to:

  • monitor and suppress the spread of COVID-19
  • better understand new variants

Who should get a test?

You should get a test for COVID-19 if you:

  • live in the targeted location or are contacted by PHA staff
  • are in the targeted age group

You should get a test even if:

  • you have no symptoms of COVID-19
  • you’ve had a vaccination for COVID-19
  • you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 previously (but not within the last 90 days by a PCR test)

If you’ve recently spent time within one of the areas targeted for enhanced testing but do not live there, you should continue to follow the current public health guidance.

Who should not get a test?

Anyone under the age of five years or who has tested positive with a PCR test within the last 90 days does not need to be tested.

How to get a test

PCR testing for people without symptoms is available through extra:

  • home testing kits
  • mobile testing units

What happens after your test

If you test positive with a PCR test, your test will be sent to a laboratory for genomic sequencing which tells us if it is a variant.

You must isolate with your household and follow the guidance for households with possible or confirmed COVID-19 infections. The Public Health Agency will carry out enhanced tracing of close contacts of confirmed cases of the variant.

There is currently no evidence that variants cause more severe illness.

Positive PCR tests from institutions within these specific locations, such as care homes, will also be sent for genomic sequencing.

If you test negative you should continue to follow the public health guidance.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, it is important that you get a test for people with symptoms online or by calling 119.

You must isolate with your household and follow the guidance for households with possible or confirmed COVID-19 infections until you get your result.

Continue to follow restrictions

Restrictions still apply.

If you live in an area where enhanced testing is being carried out you should get tested.