How to get a free Rapid COVID test

Frequently asked questions about the Rapid COVID test

Why should I test?

Testing together with vaccination, is our route out of the pandemic and back to a more normal life.

One in three people with Covid feel fine, but without knowing it could be helping to spread the deadly virus. Our testing service is helping to find these hidden cases and stop Covid’s secret spread.

Every time we go for a test, we’re helping to protect those we care about. But we also might just be saving the life of someone we’ll never meet.

Who can test?

These tests can only be offered to people aged 11 or over.

Children who are between the ages of 11 and 15 years old who wish to be tested must be accompanied by an adult or their test will be cancelled.

For more information about the testing procedure for children please make sure that you have read our COVID test guidance for parents and guardians of children aged 11 to 15 years.

They are only for people without symptoms. Do not book if you have a high temperature, persistent cough or your sense of taste or smell has changed.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should self-isolate at home for 10 days. The people you live with must also self-isolate. You will need to take a different test to confirm whether or not you have coronavirus.

Call 119 or visit the NHS website to arrange this test.

What happens when I arrive for my test?

When you arrive at your testing location you will need to show your booking confirmation email to one of our volunteers.

Please also remember to wear a face mask at all times.

You will need to provide a UK mobile number and valid email address to ensure that your test results are sent to you.

When you are waiting for your test slot, you will be asked to complete a registration process on your smartphone which takes approximately two minutes.

Please make sure that your email address and telephone number is inputted correctly so the results of your test are sent successfully.

How often should I test and when should I test?

We’re asking everyone who can’t work from home, or leaves the house every day for another reason, to test twice a week. If you leave your home, but less often, please test once a week.

Testing before you mix with other people is a good idea – for instance, test and get your result, before shopping. Many of our test centres are near large supermarkets.

Where possible, it’s advised that you avoid eating or drinking for 30 minutes before testing.

What does our testing rule mean in practice?

  • I live alone and work from home. I'm in a support bubble with my parents. I get a test once a week before seeing them
  • We're juggling home working and home schooling. Our toddler goes to childcare five days a week. Everyone in our house that’s 11+ tests twice a week
  • We're both home workers. We go out most days, but just for exercise. We have very limited contact with other people, so we're happy to test once a week, usually on the way to the supermarket
  • I work from home, but my partner can’t. They do a minimum of four shifts over seven days - we both test twice a week.

Can I cancel or change my online booking?

Yes, when you book a test you will receive a confirmation email. The email contains a link to allow you to change or cancel a test booking.

Please check your junk or spam folder if you do not receive the confirmation email as it may be in there.

How is the test done?

You’ll be asked to take a swab of your throat and nose. It doesn’t hurt and there’s a mirror to help. Staff can offer assistance if you need it.

How long does it take?

Appointments are booked in ten-minute blocks. The test itself takes seconds and the result is available in about 30 minutes. The result can be texted to you or sent by email.

Results sometimes take a little longer to come through. Tests are managed through a national NHS system. Issues with the system very occasionally mean that a result is only available after a number of hours.

If you do not receive your result within 24 hours, you should book another test. The most common explanation for this is an error in inputting the phone number or email address to which the result is to be sent.

Do I wait for my result to come through?

No, you should leave the site as soon as your test is complete. The result will be sent to you by text or email in about 30 minutes.

Are the test centres ventilated?

We’re very conscious of the importance of ventilation. We’re using a variety of buildings as test centres - some have windows, some have ventilation systems and some have both.

Whatever’s available at these sites, we’re using to best effect to keep air circulating.

We also offer open air testing at our mobile sites.

Should I wear a face mask to my appointment?

Yes, a face mask is mandatory for everyone aged 3 and over – you will not be able to enter the test centre without one.

People who are usually medically exempt must also wear a face covering for the short period they are inside the test centre.

Are there social distancing measures in place?

Yes, staff at the centres help manage the flow of people and any queues to ensure social distancing is maintained. At busy times there may be a slight delay as we slow the rate of people through the system, but you’ll still be in and out in minutes.

Do staff wear PPE?

Yes. The amount they wear may vary with their role, but as a minimum they wear a face mask and face guard. Many also wear gloves and disposable aprons. Those that handle your test, change their gloves after every booking.

Can I test in private?

Yes, at each of our fixed sites (Civic Centre, Harrow Arts Centre, St Anns shopping centre and Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Stanmore) one booth has a curtain, so you can test in complete privacy.

Are there any animal products used in the test?

No, the tests are entirely free of animal products.

Are the test centres accessible?

Yes, all of our test centres have step-free access. All centres have car parking and are served by public transport. View more information about our Rapid COVID test centres.

If you have a specific question about accessibility not answered on this page, please email [email protected]

What if I test negative?

If your test is negative, it’s very important that you continue to ‘act like you have Covid’. That means staying at home and observing lockdown restrictions, washing your hands regularly, wearing a face covering in public and keeping two metres wherever possible from people you don’t live with.

What if I test positive?

If your test is positive you should immediately go home and self-isolate for 10 days. This is to stop you passing Covid onto anyone else. Other members of your household should also self-isolate.

Can I use a test centre in another borough?

Yes, if you live near the border of a neighbouring borough, your nearest test centre may be outside Harrow.

See all the Covid test centres in London and beyond.

You can use a test centre in another borough, but before making an appointment please confirm that it offers a test for people without coronavirus symptoms.

Can I use this test to qualify for entry into another country?

Under current restrictions, you must stay at home. You must not travel, including abroad, unless you have a legally permitted reason to do so. It is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes.

If you have a legally permitted reason to travel abroad, you need to check the restrictions and entry requirements in place for the country you intend to travel to. You can find these on the UK Government website.

Many countries will require a negative Covid test as a requirement to entry. You should check carefully the type of test that is required. The type of test available to book on this page is a Lateral Flow Test.