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.
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 have COVID-19 symptoms
Continue to follow restrictions
If you live in an area where enhanced testing is being carried out you should get tested.