COVID-19 testing – the facts 

Correct at the time of writing: 06.11.20.

As the battle against COVID-19 continues, it’s more important than ever to feel safe, secure and comfortable at work. Getting the right test at the right time can make a big difference. So, to help you understand your options and support your employees, we’ve put together some information that might come in useful.

Different types of test


Although many terms are used interchangeably, there are actually three different types of COVID-19 test that are widely available throughout the UK.

  • 1. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test

    This is a way of detecting an existing COVID-19 infection by taking a swab from the nose or throat to see if any genetic material from the virus is present. It is the most common type of test and the one you’re probably most familiar with.

    Despite a small margin for error, PCR tests are known to be highly accurate. The only downside is that it usually takes around 24-72 hours to get the results. Unfortunately, this delay makes it much harder to control the spread of the virus and sometimes forces people to isolate either too late or unnecessarily.

    Did you know?

    PCR tests form the main basis of reported COVID-19 cases in the UK.

  • 2. Antigen test

    Just like a PCR test, an antigen test typically takes a swab from the nose or throat. The key difference is that it detects an existing COVID-19 infection by looking to see if specific proteins of the virus are present.

    Again, it’s a highly accurate test, but the results are usually available in just 10-15 minutes (rather than days). This makes it easier to put control measures in place quickly and from a business point of view, it helps to avoid any unnecessary disruptions.

  • 3. Antibody test

    This is a blood test (usually just a finger prick), which is used to identify whether a person has previously been infected by COVID-19. The blood sample is sent to a lab to check for COVID-19 antibodies and results are typically available within 24-72 hours.

    Although antibody tests are consistently accurate, they cannot confirm whether a person currently has the virus or if they will be immune to it in the future. So, they shouldn’t be used as a return-to-work strategy.

    Did you know?

    Antibody tests are best done at least 14 days after the onset of symptoms. Research suggests that antibodies only become detectable from 8-10 days after symptoms develop.




Free COVID-19 tests - eligibility

Although the availability of COVID-19 testing is improving all the time, your employees still need to meet certain conditions to be eligible for a free test.

Who is eligible for a free PCR or antigen test?

Free PCR or antigen tests are available on the NHS to anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms – for example a high temperature, a continuous cough or a loss of sense of smell or taste. Free tests are also available to those who are due to have surgery or a medical procedure (either on the NHS or via their company health plan).

Free tests are NOT available to people who live with or are in close contact with someone with coronavirus, unless they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms themselves. Plus, they are NOT available, just because a person is planning to leave the UK or has arrived from a high-risk country.

More details on eligibility and how to get a free COVID-19 test are available on the website.

Who is eligible for an antibody test?

Free antibody tests are limited to adults who work (and are paid) in social care employment – including residential care, domiciliary care and supported living.

Free antibody tests are being provided in different ways across different regions. Again, for more information you should visit the website.

Getting your employees tested

Even if your employees aren’t eligible for free testing, you may still want to get them tested for practical reasons or peace of mind.

Although COVID-19 tests aren’t included on your existing health plan (other than for pre-treatment assessments), Bupa can arrange company-wide antigen and antibody tests for your employees – in partnership with a fully accredited laboratory. If you want to understand more about your options, feel free to get in touch.

Did you know?

There are currently over 140 vaccines in pre-clinical trials all over the world. Plus, 29 in phase 1 clinical trials, 18 in phase 2 and 9 in phase 3.

Health care experts expect a UK vaccine to be available by Q1 2021.

If you would like more information on COVID-19 testing or looking for benefits support to cover your employees, get in touch with MMB on 0800 023 2785 or fill out the form below.


This article has been written in collaboration with Bupa, one of MMB’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future.

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