Covid-19: Where can I order a lateral flow test?

13 December 2021, 15:51 | Updated: 13 December 2021, 15:56

There have been problems with the supply of lateral flow tests, which are supposed to be freely available
There have been problems with the supply of lateral flow tests, which are supposed to be freely available. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The Government website for ordering lateral flow tests was suspended on Monday because it faced "exceptionally high demand".

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But in less than 24 hours lateral flow tests will become essential for contacts of a coronavirus case.

From Tuesday 14 December, people who are a fully vaccinated contact of someone with Covid-19, whether Omicron or another variant, are being told to take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for seven days to help slow the spread of the virus.

They may also be needed for the Covid-19 NHS pass as well.

Here's everything you need to know about getting a lateral flow test.

When do I need to take a lateral flow test?

Lateral flow tests are a type of Covid test you can do at home, and get the result within 30 minutes.

They are useful for diagnosing coronavirus in people who do not have symptoms, and so would not get a PCR test.

Read more: Home Covid tests unavailable and NHS jab booking system crashes amid new rules

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Lateral flow tests are - in theory at least - freely available to order from the Government website, or to pick up at pharmacies, some community centres such as libraries, and at testing sites.

At the moment, the Government advises taking a lateral flow test if you are planning on going to a "high risk situation" - for example, if a crowded place or a space where ventilation is difficult.

They also say you should take one if you will be mixing with people who are at high risk of complications from Covid-19.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it is recommended you take two tests a week.

What's happened to the online system?

On Monday, many users of the Government website - which you should use to order a box of seven lateral flow tests for free - were given a message saying there were "no more home test kits available". They were advised to try again later or book a test at a test site.

Watch: 'No guarantees': Health Sec refuses to rule out school closures in fight against Omicron

As well as this, many people said they were finding it difficult to find lateral flow test kits in pharmacies, with many saying they were out of stock and awaiting more deliveries.

Is there a shortage of lateral flow tests?

The Government says not.

A spokesperson for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said online ordering had been "temporarily suspended" because the site was experiencing "exceptionally high demand".

Read more: At least one person has died with Omicron, PM confirms

"Everyone who needs a lateral flow test can collect test kits – either at their local pharmacy, some community sites and some schools and colleges," said the spokesperson.

"Due to exceptionally high demand, ordering lateral flow tests on has been temporarily suspended to fulfil existing orders."

The spokesperson advised people to use tests they already have before trying to order more.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also insisted there was no shortage of lateral flow tests, saying there was a "ready supply" of them, if not online then in "shops".

Where can I get a free lateral flow test?

The UKHSA says the availability for tests is refreshed every day, and advised people to check back tomorrow - so if you do not need lateral flow tests urgently, it's worth checking the Government website tomorrow to see if you can place an order.

Alternatively, you could check out pharmacies near you to see if they have any availability, or book a slot at a test site.

Read more: Health Sec warns some NHS appointments will be dropped to meet tough new booster target

Read more: Covid-19 booster jabs: Who is eligible and how can you book?

The NHS has a useful website which shows you where your nearest locations are - although it does not appear to give information about availability of the tests at the current point in time.

Find your nearest test site or collection site here.

What happens if I can't get a lateral flow test?

At the moment this is not clear.

When the rules comes into force tomorrow, the Government may publish more detailed guidance about lateral flow tests. This may offer some clarity, for example if you are a contact of a coronavirus case but cannot get hold of any lateral flows to do your daily tests.