There are two types of test. The first and most common test provides an indication of whether an individual has the virus at the time the test is taken. A swab is taken from the individual’s nose or throat and the sample sent off to a lab to look for signs of the virus.

At the time of writing, the following people can apply to have a test through the government testing programme:

  • an essential worker with coronavirus symptoms
  • aged 65 or over with coronavirus symptoms
  • someone who cannot work from home and has coronavirus symptoms (for example, construction workers or delivery drivers).

If an employee takes the test, the result will only be shared with their employer with their permission.

This test is being used by some employers as way of ensuring those with the virus self isolate, even if they do not yet have symptoms. However, the test only provides validation that the individual was free of the virus when they took the test, therefore other measures will also need to be introduced.

It could also be used to establish whether key workers who are self isolating because, for example, one of their family members is displaying symptoms can continue to work.

The second type of test is an antibody test. This can detect if a person has had coronavirus before and has since recovered. These use a drop of blood to see if coronavirus antibodies are present.

There has been speculation about whether this could provide a route out of lockdown on the assumption that people are immune to the virus following an infection. Some have suggested governments could issue “immunity passports” to those who have had the infection, which would allow them to return to work.

However, the World Health Organisation has warned against the use of immunity passports because it has not yet been established whether people are immune following an infection. There are also concerns about the accuracy of any antibody test.

This page is designed to give general information about health and safety on returning to work. It does not cover all circumstances and should not be treated as a definitive answer. Members should contact Prospect either through the Member Contact Centre on 0300 600 1878 or contact their union rep or full-time officer for specific advice.