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COVID-19 testing

11-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the phone operator and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Quick read

Find out who should get a COVID-19 test, and whether you need a RAT or PCR test.

COVID-19 testing and reporting in Australia

COVID-19 testing rules have changed in most states and territories. For example, you no longer need a PCR test to confirm a positive result from a rapid antigen test (RAT).

Different states and territories also have different recommendations in place for reporting a positive COVID-19 test. For more information, see this list of options for reporting your COVID-19 status.

When should I get tested for COVID-19?

You should get tested for COVID-19 if:

  • you have symptoms of the illness — even if your symptoms are mild; or
  • you have been advised to do so by a health professional

Depending on how long it has been since you recovered from COVID-19 you may need to take another test if you develop new COVID-19 symptoms.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Which COVID-19 test should I use?

There are 2 types of tests used to diagnose COVID-19 in Australia: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and rapid antigen tests (RATs).

Most people will only need to take a RAT to find out if they have COVID-19. PCR tests are usually needed for people who are at risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

You should use a RAT if:

  • you’re at low risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 and you do not have symptoms
  • you want to check if you have COVID-19 before attending a large event or visiting vulnerable people
  • needed as part of a screening program by your school or your employer

Read more about recommendations for COVID-19 close contacts here.

You may need to report a RAT positive result. Check the rules and recommendations in your state or territory.

You should get a PCR test if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you’re at risk of severe COVID-19 illness, or if you tested positive on a RAT and you need a PCR test to confirm your result.

Where do I get a COVID-19 test?

Rapid antigen tests

You can get rapid antigen tests (RATs) online or at pharmacies and retail outlets. You can take these tests at home.

Only use tests that have been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). See the TGA’s list of approved tests here, including links to videos on how to use each test. This list is updated regularly.

PCR tests

If you need a PCR test, you can get one through your doctor or nurse who can request one for you. You can also get a PCR test at a GP-led respiratory clinic. If you are part of a priority group, you can get one at a state- or territory-run COVID-19 testing centre.

For more information about state and territory PCR testing arrangements, visit:

If you cannot leave your home because you have a disability and need a PCR test, you can call the Disability Gateway helpline. Call 1800 643 787, Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm (AET), except on national public holidays.

The call handler will tell you whether you’re able to have a COVID-19 PCR test at your home. For more information, visit

How do COVID-19 tests work?

PCR tests

Polymerase chain reaction tests — PCR tests — are a type of nucleic acid test. These tests detect the presence of the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. PCR tests are good at detecting the virus early in the infection, sometimes before a person develops any symptoms.

Nucleic acid tests are complicated to do and usually need to be done by specialists in a laboratory.

Rapid antigen tests

Rapid antigen tests, or RATs, detect the presence of proteins of the virus. RATs are more accurate when people have symptoms, so it’s better to take the test in the first 7 days of having symptoms.

RATs can be used anywhere — such as at home or at work — without the supervision of a health practitioner.

RATs return a result within 10 to 20 minutes. You can do the test at home without a doctor.

It's important to follow the instructions on the packaging to get an accurate result.

What's point-of-care testing, and antibody self-tests?

The test you do at home is known as a rapid antigen self-test. However, some schools and workplaces test regularly to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak and use rapid antigen point-of-care testing. These tests are carried out by health professionals or trained people working under supervision. They can provide clinical advice and treatment if needed.

Rapid antigen tests are different to rapid antibody self-tests, which can't be sold for general use in Australia. Rapid antibody tests only show whether a person has previously had COVID-19.

Does a COVID-19 test cost?

Rapid antigen tests usually cost between $10 and $15 per test, but they may be free in some states for concession card holders.

PCR tests are free for the people who need them. People who need them can get them for free if their GP or nurse requests one for them, or at GP-led respiratory clinics or state- or territory-run COVID-19 testing centres.

What do I need to do before I test for COVID-19?

The COVID-19 test is done by swabbing the back of your throat and your nose. You do not need to fast beforehand or take any samples with you.

If you are getting a PCR test, you may need a referral and an appointment. You will need to bring your Medicare card with you — if you do not have a Medicare card, bring at least one form of identification, such as your driver's licence or student ID. You will also need to provide your contact details so you can get your test results.

If you get tested at a general practice, ask the staff how you will get your result.

After your test, you should follow the instructions of your doctor or the healthcare professional at the testing clinic. In most cases, you will be told to go straight home and wait for your results. Do not go out in public, including to work or school. Practise good hand and cough hygiene, and avoid close contact with other people, including members of your own household.

If you take a RAT, follow the instructions provided with the test. It is important you do not eat, drink, smoke, brush your teeth or chew gum for 10 to 30 minutes before collecting saliva for a RAT since doing these things may give you an incorrect result.

When will I get my COVID-19 PCR test result?

You will receive your test result from your local health department.

If your result is negative, you do not need to isolate.

Contact the clinic, general practice or hospital where the test was carried out if you have any questions about your results.

What happens if my test is positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should stay at home until your symptoms go away.

Contact your GP or health service if you're aged 65 or over, pregnant, have any chronic conditions or have any concerns about your health.

People who have had contact with you, including family members and people you live with, may need to test for COVID-19 and follow public health directions.

Visit this page to learn more about how to manage COVID-19. Alternatively, you can learn more about isolation recommendations in your state or territory.

Registering a positive RAT

If you tested positive using a RAT, you may need to register your result. Find out the testing arrangements for each state and territory below:

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Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2024

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