Boots has announced that it will be launching a new coronavirus testing service that can return results to customers in just 12 minutes, while the latest NHS Test and Trace data continues to show only 15 per cent of results from the government tests are returned within 24 hours.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament earlier this year that he wanted a 100 per cent completion rate by the end of June, but that ambition has never been met. In September, just one in ten were being turned around in that timeframe.
As a result private services that can offer a test with an almost-instant turnaround are going to be facing an ever-demanding customer base who are willing to pay.
On 26 October, the British high street pharmacy chain said it was going to be rolling out LumiraDx devices at selected stores in the next couple of weeks to give customers the option of a paid-for swab test that returns results on the same day.
What will the test be?
Currently there are two types of general tests available - antigen test and antibody test. The former tells you if you have Covid-19 currently and the latter tells you if you have Covid-19 antibodies, meaning you have had the virus already.
The antigen test is the one provided by the NHS Test and Trace system and involves a swab of the nose and throat. Since 18 May everyone over the age of five in the UK with symptoms (a fever, persistent new cough, loss of taste and/or smell) can now be tested for the virus.
Like the NHS test the Boots test will be a swab, taken in store, and can be booked online by anyone not displaying Covid-19 symptoms.
As well as the 12-minute test, Boots has also launched a 48-hour testing service, which is currently available in 10 stores across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with plans to extend the programme to more than 50 outlets.
Who is the test for?
The test, Boots says, is intended to be used as a pre-flight check for the virus or as a way to get peace of mind before visiting vulnerable friends and family. Boots says people who are experiencing symptoms should revert back to an NHS test.
Seb James, managing director, said it was a way of the chain supporting the nation’s health service and alleviating pressure.
"We hope that by offering this testing option in local community stores, Boots can help ease pressure on the NHS and the government by providing additional access to testing and crucial reassurances for people across the UK,” he said.
How much will the test cost?
Boots said it will charge £120 for the rapid test. This covers third party laboratory testing, courier services, digital services, staff wages and VAT.
But the chain said the cost could fall over time if there is high demand and Boots is able to do the tests en-masse in a large volume.
Seb James, managing director, said: “We don’t want to make a profit out of it. We are just covering our costs as there is a big upfront outlay for all the kit.
“Once it becomes more accessible in terms of cost, it could be a very important weapon in the armoury against Covid.”
How do I book a government test?
You need to book a test within five days of your symptoms first developing in order for it to be effective. The ideal time is within three days of symptoms first showing.
For people in England there are two choices: you can either go to a regional drive-through centre, where someone will administer the test for you, or do it yourself at home.
If you are having the coronavirus swab test done at a drive-through service you will need a car, and you need to all arrive in the same vehicle and sit next to a window in the vehicle. You are not allowed to ride a motorbike.
Alternatively you can request an at-home test kit, when the tools will be delivered to your door and you can administer the test yourself in the privacy of your home. You will be asked to complete an identity check to get the test sent out.
If you have booked an at-home test, you can watch this official tutorial to show you how to administer the test to yourself.
You will receive your test results by text message. The government says most people will receive a response within 48 hours but it can take up to five days. While you wait for your results you (and anyone you live with) must self-isolate.