Using COVID-19 antigen tests

Antigen tests are an extra measure to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19 (coronavirus).

You do the tests yourself. You use a swab to take a sample from your nose. Unlike a COVID-19 PCR test, the test sample does not have to go to a lab. You usually get your result in 15 minutes.

The information on this page is about using antigen tests you buy in a retail outlet yourself.

There is different advice for:

If you have symptoms of COVID-19:

When to do antigen tests

You can do antigen tests regularly if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and you are regularly in high-risk environments.

High-risk environments include:

  • cinemas, theatres or concerts
  • bars or restaurants
  • participating in contact sports
  • multi-household visits
  • car sharing with people from other households

Do 2 tests each week with 3 days between each test. Antigen testing is more accurate if you leave a few days between each test. It can take time for the virus to show up in your system after you are exposed.

Even if you do antigen tests regularly, follow the public health advice on how to protect yourself and others.

Read about the limitations of antigen tests

How to do an antigen test

To do an antigen test, you use a swab to take a sample from your nose.

Follow the instructions that came with the test. The instructions may vary from test to test.

These are the general steps involved in doing an antigen test:

  1. Wash or sanitise your hands.
  2. Put all the items in the test kit on a clean surface.
  3. Open the tube and place it in the holder - some tubes are prefilled with liquid and some you need to fill with a vial of liquid.
  4. Blow your nose.
  5. Open the swab wrapping - only touch the swab at the handle, do not touch the soft pad at the tip.
  6. Insert the swab into your left nostril until you feel resistance, this is usually about 2cm to 4cm.
  7. Roll the swab 5 times inside the nostril.
  8. Using the same swab, repeat this process in your right nostril.
  9. Insert the swab into the tube until the soft pad is in the liquid.
  10. Stir the swab around for about 1 minute to make sure the liquid has a chance to absorb the sample on the swab.
  11. Squeeze the tube with both fingers and gently pull the swab out of the tube.
  12. Place 1 of the small plastic nozzle caps provided on top of the tube.
  13. Drop 4 drops of the liquid into the testing device.
  14. Wait for the recommended time on the instructions leaflet - usually in 15 minutes.
  15. The result will appear on the test device.

When you have finished with an antigen test, put it in a plastic bag and put the bag in your bin.

Watch a video on how to do an antigen test

Read how to do an antigen test with your child

Antigen results

There are 3 types of antigen test results:

  • Positive (detected)
  • Negative (not detected)
  • Invalid

Read the instructions that came with the test to find out how the different results are displayed.

What you need to do will depend on your result.

Positive test result

If you have a positive (detected) antigen test result:

Negative test result

If you have a negative (not detected) antigen test result, report your negative antigen result online. This helps us learn more about antigen testing.

A negative test does not mean that you do not have COVID-19.

Continue to follow the public health advice on how to protect yourself and others.

Invalid test result

If you have an invalid test result, do another test.

Types of antigen test

Only use an antigen test that has a CE mark on the packaging.

Image of the CE mark logo
CE mark

A CE mark is a quality standards mark for products sold on the European market. It means the product conforms to European safety standards and performance.

Limitations of antigen tests

An antigen test is quicker but less reliable than a PCR test. In some cases, it may not detect the virus. This is why you should do them regularly over a period of time.

Last updated: 24 November 2021 at 10.10am

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