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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 call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Quick read and other languages

Find out who should get a COVID-19 test, and whether you need a RAT or PCR test. Also available in 15 languages.

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
  • 35 days have passed since you had a positive COVID-19 test result and you meet the definition of a close contact — some states and territories recommend 28 days; or
  • you have recovered from COVID-19 and develop new symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of whether you have had contact with a confirmed case; or
  • you have been advised to do so by a health professional

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the COVID-19 Symptom and Antiviral Eligibility Checker to find out if you need 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).

You should get a PCR test if:

  • you’re at risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • you tested positive on a RAT and you need a PCR test to confirm your result

You should use a RAT if:

  • you’re at low risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • 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

You may need to report a RAT positive result. Check your state or territory government’s rules.

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 the test at home.

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 test at your home. For more information, visit disabilitygateway.gov.au.

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. The person taking the test collects the sample, does the test and interprets the results.

RATs are generally less accurate than PCR tests.

Learn more about rapid antigen tests.

Does a COVID-19 test cost?

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.

Rapid antigen tests usually cost between $10 and $15 per test, but they may be free in some cases.

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

The COVID-19 test is done by taking a swab of 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 GP 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?

Your GP or the staff at the testing clinic should tell you how long it will take to get your test results — usually, it takes 1 to 3 days.

If your test result is negative, you will get an SMS text message or a phone call from the doctor or clinic that took your test. If your test result is negative but you have had close contact with a person who has COVID-19, you must follow the public health directions of the state or territory you are in. Check their website for more information.

If your test result is positive, you will receive a phone call or SMS text message from a doctor or a Public Health Unit to let you know what you should do next. You might also be asked about contact tracing.

The National Coronavirus Helpline does not receive test results. If you have any questions about your results, contact the clinic, GP practice or hospital where the test was carried out.

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.

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. You should also the rules and advice of your state or territory government.

Registering a positive RAT

If you tested positive using a RAT, you may need to register your result or confirm it with a PCR test. Learn each state and territory government’s testing arrangements below:

Do I need to tell my close contacts?

Close contacts are those people who:

  • are living with someone who has COVID-19; or
  • have spent 4 hours or longer with someone in a home or a health or aged-care setting since they developed COVID-19; or
  • under exceptional circumstances decided by individual states or territories

Read about close contacts here.

Related topics

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Learn to recognise mild, moderate and severe symptoms of COVID-19, and when to seek medical advice from your GP or another healthcare professional.

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People with a mild case of COVID-19 can treat their symptoms in a similar way to how they treat a seasonal flu. Here's how to relieve symptoms at home.

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

Last reviewed: January 2023


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