Testing for COVID-19

Introduction

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, your GP may arrange a test for you free of charge.

If you are a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, you do not have to be tested unless you have symptoms. This is a temporary measure while testing services are operating at full capacity. You should restrict your movements by staying at home.

COVID-19 tests for the purpose of international travel are not provided in the public health system. Tests are available from commercial providers.

From 16 January 2021, all passengers arriving in Ireland must show evidence of a negative PCR COVID-19 test. You must take this test during the 72 hours before arriving in Ireland.

In addition, passengers coming from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), South Africa, and any country in South America should self-isolate for 14 days. You should arrange a COVID-19 test for 5 days after your arrival by calling a GP or GP out-of-hours service, even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19. This test is free of charge. Continue to self-isolate, regardless of your test result.

Read more about travel and COVID-19.

Who can get tested?

You may be tested for COVID-19 if you have developed at least one of these symptoms:

  • Fever (high temperature)
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste or smell

If you are a close contact you do not have to be tested unless you have symptoms of COVID-19. This is because people who have symptoms are being prioritised by the HSE. You should restrict your movements by staying at home. If you develop symptoms, you should self-isolate by staying in your room and phone your GP for further advice.

A close contact can be if:

  • You had face-to-face contact within 2 metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes
  • You live in the same house or accommodation as an infected person
  • You sat within 2 seats of an infected person, in any direction, on an airplane
  • You spent more than 2 hours in a closed space with an infected person, such as an office or a classroom

If you are a close contact, you should restrict your movements for 14 days, even if you have received a negative COVID-19 test result.

Read about contact tracing and how the COVID Tracker app works.

What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19

If you think you might have COVID-19, you should phone your GP. Do not go to the GP clinic. If you do not have a GP, you can find a GP in your area.

Your GP will carry out an assessment over the phone. This assessment is free (including for non-medical card holders).

If your doctor thinks you need a COVID-19 test, they will arrange the test for you. You will be sent your appointment details by text message (including the exact location and time of your appointment).

If your GP thinks that you do not need a test, you should stay at home until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours.

You should self-isolate while waiting for your appointment. This means that you stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. The people in your household should restrict their movements. Read more about restricted movement and self-isolation.

Getting tested

The test for COVID-19 is simple and usually takes about 15 minutes.

If you are medically unable to attend a test centre, you may be tested at home.

If you cannot drive yourself to a test centre, you can ask a family member or friend to drive you. Read about precautions you can take if someone is driving you to a test centre.

When you arrive at the test centre, a healthcare worker will:

  • Confirm your identity and contact details
  • Give you a face mask to wear
  • Explain what will happen next

If you are at a drive-thru test centre, you will be asked to stay in your car. A healthcare worker will come to the vehicle and do the test through the window.

The test

You will be asked to blow your nose into a tissue. This can be thrown into a bin bag provided.

The healthcare worker will then use a swab (similar to a long cotton bud) to take a sample from the back of your throat and nose. You may feel some discomfort during the swabbing, but it is not painful.

Children under 13 only need a nose swab. They do not need a throat swab.

The healthcare worker will send your sample to a lab where it will be tested for COVID-19.

Waiting for your results

You should continue to self-isolate while you are waiting for your results. If you were tested because you are a close contact and do not have symptoms, you should continue to restrict your movements.

You should also make a list of everyone you had close contact with in the 2 days before you developed symptoms (or the day before your test if you have no symptoms). If your results are positive, a contact tracer will ask you for their names and contact details.

If you are offered regular testing because you work or live in a place where infection is more likely, this is called serial testing. If you are getting tested in this way, you can go to work or school as normal unless you get a positive result or develop symptoms.

Test results

Your test results will be sent to you by text message. If you have tested positive, you will get a follow-up phone call. The Health Service Executive (HSE) website explains what your test results mean.

If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and do not get a negative test result, you should continue to self-isolate until:

  • You have had no fever for 5 days and
  • It has been 10 days since you first developed symptoms (or 14 days if you are in long-term residential care or you recently left hospital after treatment for COVID-19)

If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and you get a negative test result, you should continue to self-isolate until you have not had any symptoms for 48 hours.

If you have no symptoms but have tested positive because you are a close contact of a confirmed case, you should self-isolate for 10 days from the date of your test.

If you are a close contact of a confirmed case, you should restrict your movements for 14 days even if you receive a negative COVID-19 test result. This is because it can take up to 14 days for COVID-19 to show up in your system after you have been exposed to it.

If you had to restrict your movements because you recently came to Ireland, you should follow the advice on what you need to do if you travel to Ireland.

You can read more about Returning to Ireland and COVID-19 and what to do if you are travelling to Ireland.

If the test results are for a child, read about COVID-19 testing for children.

Page edited: 18 January 2021