Testing for COVID-19

Everyone in Northern Ireland with symptoms of COVID-19 is eligible for a free test.   

The symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
  • a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.

There are two ways to get a coronavirus test: going to a testing centre or getting a test kit delivered to your home.

When to get tested

You need to get the test done in the first 8 days of having symptoms.

On days 1 to 7, you can get tested at a site or at home. If you’re ordering a home test kit on day 7, do it by 3pm.

On day 8, you need to go to a test site - it’s too late to order a home test kit.

Testing for all symptomatic individuals in Northern Ireland can be booked at https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test.

Home tests can be booked at 08:00 and at 12:00 midday.

If you have questions about a test you've booked you can call free phone 119 or 0300 303 2713.

Problems booking a test

We are aware that there have been some problems with the digital portal impacting a small number of cases in Northern Ireland which has caused testing slots to be offered at sites which are outside Northern Ireland. We are advised by colleagues in DHSC London that they are working on a fix to the digital portal that ensures the allocation of slots also takes into account journey times.

Anyone who tries to book a test and is unable to do so, or who is offered a location or time which is not convenient, is encouraged to please wait a few hours and then try again.

There is a high demand for tests currently but more appointments and home testing kits are available nationally every day. You can only book tests for the following day’s testing from 6pm. This allows available bookings up to 1pm the next day. From 8am the following day subjects can book tests for 1pm until site closing.

How do I use the test?

Note: all tests are self-swab

The test involves you taking a swab of the nose and the back of the throat. You can find guidance on this including a video here.

Instructions for the test kit with translations can be found here.

You can watch a video explaining the process for drive-through testing here.

If a child is to be tested, parents/guardians will need to swab the child. Instructions on how to use a test kit on a child are available here. You can also watch a video on swabbing your child here.

Testing for care home residents and staff

Information on testing for care home residents and staff is available here.

Testing centres (drive through test sites)

Testing is currently conducted in fixed drive-through sites operating at:

  • SSE test centre, Odyssey Car park, Belfast BT3 9QQ
  • Derry/Londonderry site:  The LYCRA Company Car park, near The Rec Club. (Approach using A2 Clooney Road from ‘Maydown Roundabout’ towards Coleraine / Limavady following E-signs
  • Central Sports Arena, Kernan Hill Road, Craigavon , BT63 5PY
  • St Angelo Airport, 62 Killadeas Road, Trory, Enniskillen BT94 2FP

All centres are open seven days a week 10.00am – 5.00pm, with the exception of SSE which opens 9.30am - 5.30pm.

Booking can be made for morning test slots from 6pm the previous day. Afternoon booking slots are released at 10am on the day of testing.

In addition to the four fixed sites, mobile testing units operate across Northern Ireland.

Mobile testing units provide a temporary testing site that can be set up quickly in response to local demand. The mobile testing units are currently at:

  • Albert Basin/St Christopher Park, William Street, Newry BT34 2D

  • Marks Arena, Antrim Forum, Lough Road, Antrim, BT41 4DQ

  • Woodlands Playing Fields, 146 Finaghy Road, Belfast, BT10 0JE

  • Dungannon Leisure Centre Rear Car Park, Killymeal Road Car Park, Dungannon, BT71 6LJ

  • Lough Moss Leisure Centre Hillsborough Road, Belfast, BT8 8HR

  • Blair Mayne Leisure Complex (Car Park), 1 Dairy Hall Lane, Newtownards, BT23 4DB

  • Ulster University (Car Park 9), Shore Road, Newtownabbey, BT37 0QB

The mobile testing units are open from 10.30am to 3.30pm and can be booked through the normal booking channels. You will see the locations across Northern Ireland as you book a test or alternatively ask staff if you call 119.

Walk through test sites (open 08:00am to 8:00pm)

  • Ulster University (Car Park 4), Cromore Road, Coleraine, BT52 1SA

  • Magee Ulster University, Northland Road, Londonderry, BT48 7JL
  • Ballymena Showgrounds, Slemish Drive, Ballymena, BT43 7DS

  • Car Park at Queen’s Sports Club (PEC), Stranmillis Embankment

  • Longstone Car Park, Lisburn, BT28 1DD

Don't forget you must book a test appointment.

Receiving your results

The testing programme aims to provide results within 24-48 hours of taking a test at a test site. Results through the home delivery service may take up to 72 hours.

Please ensure you enter the correct contact details when you register. Note you cannot receive a test result without registering your kit on the website.

What happens to the test results

Results are communicated to individuals directly by email and will be fed back into public health records in due course.

Home tests

If you require a kit to be completed at home you can request one at https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test

Please note there is limited availability and to help with securing a kit on the day required please book between 8am and 9am.

Once you order a home-test kit, the test kit should be delivered the next day.

You will then book Royal Mail courier to arrive the day after to collect your swab and take it to the lab.

Each kit comes with comprehensive instructions to guide you through how to administer the swab yourself. Test kits come with further instructions and a short video to take you through the process step by step.  

Protection of personal data 

Amazon and Royal Mail are the commercial partners who are delivering home testing nationwide. They do not have access to the results or any health data. 

Test results and staying safe

While waiting for your test or if you receive a positive diagnosis for COVID-19:

  • you'll need to stay at home for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started;
  • after 10 days from when your symptoms started:
    • if you have not had a high temperature for 48 hours, you no longer need to self-isolate;
    • if you still have a high temperature, you need to self-isolate until your temperature has returned to normal for 48 hours.
  • you do not need to self-isolate if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell/taste after 10 days, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
  • if you live with someone who has symptoms, you'll need to stay at home and self-isolate also. If the person with symptoms tests positive for COVID-19, everyone in the household without symptoms will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day the first person in the home started having symptoms;
  • however, if you develop symptoms during this 14-day period, you’ll need to stay at home for at least 10 days from the day your symptoms started (regardless of what day you are on in the original 14-day period). Follow the advice above on when to end self-isolation.

Even if an individual has had a negative result, it’s important to still apply caution. If everyone with symptoms who was tested in their household receives a negative result, they can return to work if their work cannot be done from home, providing they are well enough, and have not had a fever for 48 hours.

If, after returning to work, they develop symptoms they should follow the guidance and self-isolate. Employees should discuss their return to work with their employing organisation.

The test will confirm if a person - who is showing symptoms of the virus - actually has it. It will not confirm whether they have had it and have now recovered.

It is vital those who test negative continue to follow guidance including precautions related to social distancing. 

The number for the NHS contact centre for results enquiries is 119.

Privacy information

Privacy information on COVID-19 testing can be found here.

Testing for HSC staff members

HSC staff should contact their line manager for details on how to arrange testing. Some Trusts are also able to facilitate testing for primary care staff in their testing facilities.

Other testing

We would advise caution about obtaining testing from non-governmental sources. A positive or negative test will not be recognised by the HSC and will not change the advice given. You will still have to observe recommended isolation periods.