How COVID-19 testing works

Last updated: 17 January 2022

There are new ways to test for COVID-19. Learn about testing, results and what to do after a test.  

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Register a positive rapid antigen test result

From 12 January, you must report a positive rapid antigen test result:

  • within 24 hours of getting the result.
  • every time you get a positive result.

If you have tested positive and reported your result, you can:

  • quickly understand your relative level of risk based on your personal circumstances
  • access support services available from NSW Health

Register your COVID-19 test result.

Rapid antigen testing

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, even if you are fully vaccinated, use a rapid antigen test immediately and self-isolate.

Most people don't need a PCR (nose and throat swab) test if they receive a positive rapid antigen test result.

Testing clinic capacity

Large volumes of COVID-19 tests are currently being processed. NSW Health is working hard to meet testing demand and is increasing capacity where possible. 

Find a testing clinic

What to know about testing changes

Most people can now use a rapid antigen test result to confirm whether they have COVID-19.

Even if you only have one symptom, do a rapid antigen test and self-isolate straight away.

From mid-January 2022, people who test positive with a rapid antigen test will be able to register their results through the Service NSW app.

Who should do a rapid antigen test

  • People with symptoms
  • Household, social, workplace or education contact of a positive case
  • Anyone before going to an event with lots of others, or before visiting vulnerable family members
  • Anyone arriving from overseas (passengers and flight crew)

You do not need to have your rapid antigen test confirmed with a PCR (nose and throat swab) test unless you have:

  • COVID-19 symptoms, but have tested negative on a rapid antigen test AND are at higher risk of severe disease - including those who are pregnant, immunosuppressed, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, or unvaccinated
  • COVID-19 symptoms and you can’t get a rapid antigen test
  • been asked to have a PCR test from a health care provider.

If you need a PCR (nose and throat swab) test

Most people no longer need this test to confirm they have COVID-19 in NSW.

If you proceed with PCR testing, check the details of each testing clinic to confirm:

  • the opening hours
  • whether you need to make a booking
  • if children can be tested  
  • whether a referral from your GP is required
  • there is wheelchair access if needed
  • if the clinic is drive-through and you need to stay in your car for the test.

COVID-19 PCR (nose and throat swab) testing is available across NSW at:

  • COVID-19 clinics which are set up especially for testing
  • some private pathology sites
  • some GPs or local doctors.

You will need to bring one form of identification with you.

While the COVID-19 test is a simple and quick process, get to the clinic with enough time before it closes for staff to explain the process and answer any questions.

The test is safe, free and you do not need a Medicare card.

A PCR (nose and throat swab) test is usually a bit uncomfortable but not painful.

The test is for COVID-19 but some clinics may test for other respiratory viruses.

The COVID-19 swabs are not tested for drugs, cancer, or anything else.

After your test

Go straight home and self-isolate until you receive your result, unless otherwise advised by NSW Health. 

Do not stop off along the way. 

If you need groceries or other essential items, ask family or a friend to drop them off at the front door.

If you need to pick up your children, ask another parent or family member to drop them home.

More detail about PCR (nose and throat swab) tests

  • You do not need to prepare for the test.
  • You may have your temperature checked when you arrive.
  • You need to wear a mask at the clinic and remove it to provide a sample.
  • A doctor or nurse will ask if you have any symptoms.
  • A sample of fluid is taken from inside your nose and/or your throat using a medical swab.
  • The swab is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Self-isolate until you receive your results

You must go straight home and self-isolate until you get your COVID-19 test result.

  • You cannot leave your home unless it is to seek medical care or because of an emergency.
  • You cannot have visitors.
  • Monitor how you feel. If symptoms become serious (such as shortness of breath while sitting or difficulty breathing), call Triple Zero (000). Tell the ambulance staff you have been tested for COVID-19. Ambulance services are provided free of charge to people who are suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. 
  • If you share a home with other people
    • separate yourself from them as much as possible
    • when you are at home with others, spend time in separate rooms if you can
    • wear a face mask when you are in the same room as another person and
    • keep 1.5m away from each other. 
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

Learn more about COVID-19 testing.

Receiving PCR test results

You will normally receive results in 1 to 3 days.

When you take your COVID-19 test, register to receive your results by SMS text message.

If you were tested at a public hospital

You can securely access your COVID-19 test result by registering for the NSW Health Pathology Results Portal. You will be prompted to:

  • enter your mobile number to receive a OTP (one time passcode)
  • enter the OTP
  • click ‘View results’ to download a PDF copy of your results

You can also share a copy of your personal result report, which has a unique QR code, with authorised third parties such as employers, schools or airlines.

If you were tested at a private clinic

If you have not received your results within 3 days, call the provider on the COVID-19 results hotline.

Financial support

If you can't earn money because of COVID-19 restrictions, find out about the financial support available

Pandemic leave disaster payment

You may be eligible for financial support if you can't earn an income because

  • NSW Health has directed you to self-isolate or quarantine for 7 days or
  • you are caring for someone who has COVID-19.

Find out if you are eligible for

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