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A rapid antigen test

What's the difference between a PCR test and a RAT, and which one should you use?

What is a PCR test?

A Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19 can detect DNA sequences for the SARS COV-2 or COVID-19 virus. Your state Health Department uses these tests to confirm a case of COVID-19. It has been called the "gold standard" of COVID-19 testing. 

Find out more about PCR tests for people with disabilities here: COVID-19 testing for people with a disability.

What is a RAT?

A Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) is a test you can do yourself at home. It is not as accurate as a PCR test but can detect certain proteins which may be present in the case of COVID-19. If you have a positive (or “non-negative”) RAT result, you should immediately isolate. Taking a RAT over a number of days should give you a more accurate result than one standalone RAT. 

When should I get a PCR test?

You should get a PCR test from a COVID-19 Testing site if you are unable to get a RAT kit or if you have trouble using the test. You can also get a PCR test if you think your at home RAT kit is wrong or inconclusive. 

When should I use an at-home RAT?

RAT kits are available from supermarkets and chemists. You need to buy some, or if you are a concession card holder, you can redeem your free RAT kits.

Victoria also provides free RATs for people with disability at COVID-19 testing sites. 

Schools and some workplaces may also distribute RAT kits so you can have some on hand.

You can take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)

  • if you are unwell with any COVID symptoms
  • If you suspect you may have come in to contact with a COVID-19 case
  • if you are planning to visit a vulnerable person like an elderly or immunocompromised friend or family member
  • if you have been in a large crowd situation recently and want to make sure 
  • if your workplace asks you to take one before attending the workplace, and
  • if you are travelling interstate and are required to by your destination’s health authority

How to take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)

Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits are hard to get at the moment but should be available through chemists, supermarkets and in some situations, provided to you by your employer. 

Each kit should contain: 

  • a nasal or throat swab
  • an agitator
  • a dispenser
  • a liquid solution in a sachet
  • a tube to mix the swab sample and liquid solution in
  • a test strip with a small well and a display window 

Some kits also contain a UV ultraviolet or black light torch to make your test result visible. Sometimes the swab and the agitator are the same thing and sometimes the dispenser and the mixing tube are the same thing too. 

Testing is quite simple but can be overwhelming, especially if you haven't done one before. 

You need to swab the inside of your nostrils or your throat. Swabbing your nostrils shouldn't cause any pain as you only insert the swab into your nostril, not up and into the back of your nose like a PCR test. It may tickle and might make you sneeze. 

Then you need to place the liquid solution and the swab in the tube.

You then agitate the solution by stirring the swab in the solution.

Then you use the dispenser to drop the liquid containing your sample into the well on the test.

Then you need to wait for the test to display a result, this may take ten to fifteen minutes depending on your test. 

If you are blind or have low vision

If you have a vision impairment and need someone to tell you what your test says, you can make a free video call to Aira for five minutes or less and an agent will be able to read the result out loud for you. 

Go to aira.io for more information. 

How to take the at-home Rapid Antigen Test

The ABC has made a short video showing the steps you need to take to take a rapid home test for COVID-19. Closed captions are available. 

Reporting a positive RAT result

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In VIctoria


In NSW, You must register a positive rapid antigen test result as soon as possible after you get your result. 

You can register a positive test result for yourself, another adult or a child. Each result needs to be reported separately.

You do not need to register if you've had:

  • a negative or invalid rapid antigen test result
  • a positive PCR test in the 28 days before your positive rapid antigen test.

Note: If you develop severe chest pain, fainting episodes or severe difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000) straight away and tell the ambulance staff that you have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

For free help in your language, call Translating and Interpreting Services on 13 14 50 and ask them to contact us on 13 77 88.


To register a positive rapid antigen test result you must be:

  • aged 16 or over
  • living or staying in NSW.

What you need

  • a MyServiceNSW Account (optional)
  • the date of the positive rapid antigen test result
  • name, date of birth and postcode of the person tested
  • your contact details.

How to register

  1. Select the ‘Register a positive result’ button.
  2. Log in to your MyServiceNSW Account or select 'Continue without log in'.
  3. Choose to register a result for yourself, another adult or a child.
  4. Enter the positive test result date.
  5. Enter details of the person who tested positive.
  6. Enter your phone number or email.
  7. Answer 'yes' or 'no' to the health questions about the person who tested positive.
  8. Complete the declaration.
  9. Submit your details.

If you have any issues or need help completing the form, call Service NSW on 13 77 88.

You cannot register your positive result at a Service NSW Centre.

After you've submitted the form, continue to self-isolate for 7 days from the day you received your positive result and follow the advice from NSW Health.

If you're pregnant, unvaccinated or have a serious medical condition, you'll be asked to complete a follow-up survey from NSW Health after you've submitted your positive result.

Register a positive rapid antigen test result with MyService NSW account

In Victoria

If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, you are a case. You must isolate for at least 7 days after a positive result. 

You must report your positive rapid antigen test result as soon as you can.

To report your result, call the Coronavirus Hotline at 1800 675 398, or complete the Self reporting form.

For more information go to Report your result - Coronavirus Victoria

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