About COVID-19 testing

When to get tested for COVID-19

Get tested if:

Testing is not recommended within the first 12 weeks after you've been released from isolation as a positive case, unless you have symptoms and been specifically advised by your doctor to have a COVID-19 test.​

Types of COVID tests

There are two types of tests for COVID-19 –Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT).

A PCR is the recommended test for:

Polymerase Chain Reaction test (PCR)

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is a nose and throat swab that is taken at a testing clinic and sent to a laboratory to be tested.

PCR tests are the most accurate way to confirm if a person has COVID-19. Results usually take 24 to 48 hours.

You do not need to report a Positive PCR test to ACT Health – it will be automatically notified to ACT Health if it is positive. You will receive a text message from the laboratory to let you know that your test is positive. The laboratory will notify ACT Health at the same time.

Where can I get a PCR test?

See where to get tested in the ACT.

Travelling to and from a PCR testing clinic

Wherever possible, please travel via private transport to a COVID-19 testing clinic.

Do not stop at any shops, cafes and restaurants, or your workplace during this journey to and from the testing clinic unless there is an emergency.

What should I do if I don't have a private vehicle to travel to a testing clinic?

Below are some other options if you cannot travel to a testing clinic in a private vehicle.

In order of preference:

  1. Get a family member or friend to take you in their private vehicle (there shouldn’t be anyone else in the car)
  2. Use a rideshare or taxi (you should tell the service if you are in quarantine)
  3. Use public transport
  4. Call ACT Health on 02 5124 6500 to discuss other options

Make sure you:

  • sit in the backseat of the private vehicle, taxi or rideshare
  • open windows if possible
  • wear a face mask
  • practise good respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette
  • maintain physical distance from all other people when possible
  • wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before and after travel
  • go to a walk-in testing clinic if travelling by rideshare or taxi

Rapid antigen tests

A rapid antigen test (RAT) is a quick way to detect COVID-19.

These tests involve taking either a saliva sample or nasal swab that is placed into a chemical solution.

Do not eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth, or chew gum for 10-30 minutes (refer to the instructions provided with your test kit for the recommended timing) before collecting saliva for a COVID-19 self-test as it may produce an incorrect result.

The result usually takes 10 to 30 minutes. Results should be read at the time indicated on the instructions. Results read significantly after this time can be incorrect.

You must register your positive RAT result using our online form.

RATs are available from pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail stores.

Businesses are encouraged to provide RATs to staff they wish to return to the workplace.

The ACT Government can provide RATs for household contacts who cannot obtain them from their workplace or where they would experience financial hardship, with collection from Garran and Mitchell COVID-19 testing centres.

To allow testing during the 7 day period, there will be a limit of 3 tests available per person who present to the testing centre.

Students and teachers are also able to access test kits through their school.

RATs are currently NOT recommended for children under 2 years of age. It is recommended that children under 2 years of age have a PCR test.

Occasionally, RATs may not pick up that you do have a COVID-19 infection.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms and have a negative RAT test, you should have a PCR test.

Where to get a rapid antigen test

Individuals can purchase rapid antigen tests from most pharmacies and grocery stores.

Businesses are encouraged to provide RATs to staff they wish to return to the workplace.

The ACT Government can provide rapid antigen tests for household contacts who cannot obtain them from their workplace or where they would experience financial hardship.

Collection is available at the Garran and Mitchell COVID-19 testing centres.

To allow testing during the 7 day period, there will be a limit of 3 tests available per person that presents to the testing centre.

Students and teachers are also able to access test kits through their school as per the arrangements in weeks 9 and 10 of the past school term.

If you hold a concession card, you may be able to get free RATs from a local pharmacy. More information about this is on the Services Australia website.

How to do a rapid antigen test

To view this video in other languages visit our Multicultural page.

How to do a saliva rapid antigen test

Testing children for COVID-19 using a rapid antigen test

Please see Testing for Children below for our advice if you wish to perform a RAT on your child.

Saliva (oral) sample rapid antigen tests

You should not eat, drink, brush your teeth or smoke for at least 30 minutes before doing an oral RAT. This will ensure you take a clean sample.

If you still have food, drink, toothpaste or smoke residue in your mouth, it might coat the swab stick and affect your test result. Food and drink, especially acidic drinks like soft drink and fruit juice, can impact the ability of the test to read the sample correctly.

We recommend you use oral RATs first thing in the morning, before eating, drinking, brushing your teeth or smoking.

How to dispose of a rapid antigen test

Once you’ve used a RAT, dispose of it by following the instructions provided with the test kit. If the test kit doesn’t provide disposal instructions:

  1. Place all the used items, including the test and swab, into a small, sealable plastic bag.
  2. Place the sealed bag into another plastic bag and seal the second bag
  3. Place the second bag into your household rubbish. Test kit materials are not recyclable.
  4. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

What happens if I get a positive RAT or PCR test result?

If you receive a positive PCR result, you have COVID-19.

Most of the time, a positive RAT result means you have COVID-19.

Please follow the advice for people who test positive for COVID. This page includes where you can access medical care if required.

If your test was a RAT, you must register your positive result with ACT Health using our online form.

Registering with ACT Health means you can access care and advice appropriate to you.

If a positive RAT result is unexpected (for example you don’t have symptoms, or you haven’t had a known COVID-19 exposure) you may choose to have a PCR test. Please see Who may want a PCR test following a positive RAT result below.

Who may want a PCR test following a positive RAT result?

Most of the time, a positive RAT result is all you need to be diagnosed with COVID-19. You may wish to have a PCR test if:

  • A positive RAT result is unexpected.
    For example, the RAT was performed for workplace or travel screening and you have no symptoms of COVID-19 and have no known exposure to someone with COVID-19.
  • You are eligible for specific treatments that currently require a positive PCR test prior to treatment. Please see people who test positive for COVID-19 for further details.

If you have a positive RAT result and then a negative PCR test, please contact ACT Health on 02 5124 6500 for advice.

If you have a positive RAT result and then a Positive PCR, you have COVID-19. Please follow the advice for people who test positive for COVID-19.

What happens if I get a negative RAT or PCR test result?

Test result

Symptoms

Next steps

Negative PCR

Yes

You have no evidence of COVID-19 at this time.

Isolate until your symptoms have gone.

If you are a household or high risk contact, please continue to follow the advice for people who are exposed to COVID-19.

If you are concerned about symptoms discuss with your GP via telehealth or book at a respiratory clinic.

Negative RAT

Yes

It is recommended that you have a PCR test and isolate until you receive a negative PCR result AND your symptoms have gone.

If you are a household or high risk contact, please continue to follow the advice for people who are exposed to COVID-19.

If you are concerned about symptoms discuss with your GP via telehealth or book at a respiratory clinic

Negative PCR or RAT No

You have no evidence of COVID-19 at this time.

Please have a test if you develop symptoms.

If you are a household or high risk contact, please continue to follow the advice for people who are exposed to COVID-19.

What do I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

For more information, see information for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Testing for children

ACT Health recommends that children under the age of 2 years are tested via a PCR test. Most RAT kits cannot be used on young children and babies.

The ACT has numerous testing sites available for children of all ages, including a dedicated Access and Sensory testing service.

For more information, see where to get tested in the ACT.

ACT Health has created a factsheet for using RATs on children 2 years or older (check the test kit for relevant age range approved for use with). RATs on children should only be performed by an adult. Please carefully follow any instructions provided with the test kit when using the test on a child.

Download children testing factsheet
children rat testing factsheet thumbnail

After the test

What you need to do after your test depends on why you got tested.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, please return home and isolate isolate until you have a negative test result and your symptoms have gone.

While you are awaiting your results you should maintain appropriate separation where possible.

If anyone if your household develops symptoms, they should immediately get a COVID-19 test.

You do not need to quarantine if you are being tested prior to domestic or international travel and you have no COVID-19 symptoms.

For more information, visit:

I don't have my PCR test results. Who can I contact?

You should get your test results via text message or phone call within two days of being tested.

Sometimes there are delays and it can take longer.

If you were tested because you have COVID-19 symptoms you should continue to remain at home and maintain appropriate separation from other household members during this time.

If you were tested because you are a household or high-risk contact, you should continue to follow the advice for people who are exposed to COVID-19.

If you have not received your results within two days of your test you can contact the testing sites. Please consider if this is necessary prior to calling.

If you were tested at our Mitchell or Garran testing site, you can contact 02 5124 5574. Please note this number is unavailable on public holidays.

If you were tested at the Kambah, Nicholls or Holt testing centres, you can contact 02 6285 9970.For other clinics, please contact them directly using the number provided by them.

Financial assistance while waiting for a test result

You may be able to access COVID-19 financial assistance.

For more information, see financial and other support.

acknowledgement icon
Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the ACT, the Ngunnawal people. We acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

Last Updated: May 18 2022