CHRISTMAS is just one week away, and many will choose to be with their loved ones.
And to ensure they are not infected with the coronavirus, many will try and get their hands on a Covid test.
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Dr Mark Ali, medical director of the Private Harley Street Clinic, which offers private Covid testing, said: “The concerns of people around safety this Christmas are valid.
“There is nothing more important than ensuring the safety of your entire family over the Christmas period.
“As we come together with relatives of all ages to celebrate Christmas people should know that it does not have to be a game of chance. No one wants to put elderly relatives at risk.”
If getting checked before enjoying your Christmas with your grandparents is on your agenda, there are a few things to consider first.
1. NHS tests should be for those with symptoms
The NHS offers the most accurate test for Covid-19 – the PCR test, which is used globally to swab someone with symptoms.
The swab can be taken at a drive-through centre or at your home.
It is sent to a laboratory where a lab technician looks for genetic material of the virus using highly specialised equipment.
But what’s important to remember is the NHS tests are supposed to be for people who think they have symptoms of the virus.
The Health Secretary has previously urged people against booking a test unless they have symptoms, saying he had heard of whole school years being told to get checked, and people requesting a test before their summer holiday.
As a result, when infection rates rose in September at the start of the second wave, test demand soared.
Millions were unable to get a Covid test despite having symptoms – similar to what happened when cases first emerged in March.
It’s therefore important to consider on a moral basis whether you should get a free Covid test at times when cases are growing.
If you have a loss of taste and smell, persistent cough, or high temperature, there is no doubt you should get tested.
The NHS only allows a person to get a free test if one of the following applies:
- you have a high temperature
- you have a new, continuous cough
- you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed
- you’ve been asked to get a test by a local council
- you’re taking part in a government pilot project
- you’ve been asked to get a test to confirm a positive result
You can also get a test for someone you live with if they have symptoms, too.
Other symptoms of Covid include a headache, fatigue, diarrhoea, chest pain and muscle pain.
2. A “negative” result comes with a caution
You receive a negative test result, giving you a free pass to celebrate Christmas guilt free with your family.
However, experts say a test result is only as good as the day you took it.
This means that, if you took a test on December 22, the “negative” result will only mean you did not have the virus that day.
It can take up to two days, or in the worst cases more, for the result to come back.
On top of this, you may have taken the test in the very early days of an infection, and so the test was unable to detect viral particles.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology, University of Reading, told The Sun: “People need to be aware that a negative test does not mean they do not have the virus, it just means that it couldn’t be detected at the time of the test.
“It is entirely possible that any test has just not worked properly, giving a false sense of security.”
Dr Al Edwards, School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, told The Sun: “You can be negative for a test and three days later be really ill in bed. The virus grows for several days before there is enough to be detected by a swab test.”
Dr Edwards said the PCR test is incredible sensitive, and should be able to spot if someone has Covid even in the first stage of their disease.
However, “even the very best tests do not catch every infected person”, he warns.
“The advice therefore is much more to think about transmission possibilities before travel and meeting new people,” he said.
“By which I mean: how might I have been infected but still not know?”
If you have been at work in the seven days prior to Christmas, it’s worth considering how many people you have come into contact with that may have given you the virus.
The same goes for schoolchildren – Dr Edwards said: “There are known cases and pupils self-isolating in local schools. Your children go to school every day.
“Maybe wait seven or more days after they stop school before visiting your elderly relatives.
“The only way to be really safe is to combine testing with not meeting anyone.”
3. You can get a private test – but be wary
If you’re hellbent on getting tested before enjoying festivities with Granny, you could consider a private test.
They could set you back an eyewatering £350.
And many of the sites offering them do not report the accuracy of their products, so you should always read all the information before purchasing a tests to make sure it’s right for you.
Tests done privately are not typically PCR tests, and if they are, they’ll be on the expensive side.
Private tests are usually “lateral flow” or “LAMP” tests that require a swab. Some are saliva tests, requiring you to spit in a tube.
Professor Paul Hunter, The Norwich School of Medicine, University of East Anglia, told The Sun: “Estimates of the accuracy of the other tests vary and are generally reported as being less accurate.
“Some reports have suggested a sensitivity of only 50 per cent but usually better than this.
“The accuracy of these other tests have been shown to be influenced by factors such as the experience of the person doing the test and also have well the swab was taken.”
Dr Clarke said: “A proportion of all tests fail to work and people should be very careful with privately available ones, which may be of poor quality or not carried out by properly trained doctors and scientists.”
The benefit of private tests is some can turnaround tests results on the same day.
Some have to be done by a medical professional while others, often cheaper, are home test kits.
These typically don’t have as high accuracy because people can make mistakes when doing their own swabs, research has found.
You can find out where you can get a private test by reading The Sun’s explainer of the ones on offer.
How much do private tests cost?
Private Harley Street Clinic: £250-£350. Christmas Mail Order Kit £350 plus £15 delivery.
London Global Practice: £315
Doctor Call: From £166
Private Coronavirus Tests: £149
Medinow: From £125
Assured Screening: £109
The Regenerative Clinic: From £150
The first walk-in Covid centre opened this month, at 33 Thayer Street in London.
To receive a same-day result, you must arrive before 2pm.
The test costs £150 for next day results, of £225 for same day turnaround.
The Regenerative Clinic, which is running the centre, said it uses PCR test.
The Private Harley Street Clinic recently launched the Mail Order Kit, which contains 25 tests that give results in 15 minutes.
The company says you can use the tests, which take a saliva sample, every day to check if you have the coronavirus over the Christmas holidays.
But there has to be a nurse or doctor in the family, because the test is supposed to be done by a medical professional.
It costs a hefty £325 for the tests, plus £15 delivery.
Dr Ali said: “We have the technology now available to test all family members before they enter the home to ascertain their Covid-19 status right there and then.
“This knowledge empowers families to take responsible action and appropriate precautions to create a Covid-19 free environment.”
4. Try and get a rapid test in your local area
If you live in an area with very high infection rates, you could have the advantage of getting a rapid Covid lateral flow test.
Tier 3 areas are prioritised for these tests, with some 67 local authorities already signed up for a first wave of enhanced testing support from November.
More than 1.5 million tests have already been deployed to Tier 3 local authorities, with testing under way in Warwickshire, Darlington in the North East and Medway in the South East.
More than 500,000 tests are also to be immediately deployed to London’s boroughs, which moved into Tier 3 status on Wednesday.
It was announced yesterday areas in Tier 2 at “significant risk” of moving up are now going to be offered the kits.
Local authorities are able to request support for this additional testing for an initial six-week period, the Government said.
A pilot study in Liverpool showed community testing, which took places in large centres, helped reduce the Covid outbreak.
As of December 7, almost 195,000 residents in Liverpool city and surrounding areas were tested using lateral flow, and 1,219 were positive.
These people may have had no idea they were infected.
The infection rate in Liverpool was slashed from around 700 cases per 100,000 people at the start of October to less than 100 last week. But some of this would have been a result of Covid restrictions.
Caution has been urged about relying too heavily on later flow tests, because they are not as accurate as the typical test you get when you have symptoms, called PCR.
The tests used in Liverpool missed around 51 per cent of all Covid-19 cases, according to preliminary data released on Friday by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).