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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. 

Changes to testing requirements

National Cabinet agreed to changes to testing requirements for all states except for Western Australia including:

  • Removing the requirement for truck drivers to have rolling seven days tests.
  • Testing will not be required before patients present to hospital.
  • A confirmation PCR test will not be required after a positive RAT. Individual states and territories will provide further information on how a positive RAT will be recorded. Anyone who tests positive is encouraged to contact their GP for support as required.
  • Testing before interstate travel will no longer be required except for Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, with Queensland and Tasmania to review these requirements in the coming weeks. State testing clinics will not be able to be used for interstate travel purposes.
  • A second post-arrival test for international travellers will not be required except for Queensland, which will review this requirement when they reach a 90 per cent double vaccination rate.

Some changes have been brought in in January 2022. 

Due to the large demand for testing around most of Australia, there have been some changes made to testing requirements

  • If you are a close contact and symptomatic, you are still present at a testing centre as we have for the last two years. There will be RAT available at them (for free) as well as PCR tests, to ease pressure on labs. You are urged not to go to a testing centre for 'casual' testing.
  • You no longer any need to get a PCR if you have a positive RAT. Testing requirements were also scrapped in some instances, like weekly tests for truck drivers, before entering a hospital to receive treatment, second test requirement for international guests.

The requirement to get tested will be the same for people who have symptoms or who are a confirmed close contact (new definition from last week: someone who you have been in a 'household-like' setting for more than four hours). They will still present to a testing centre as usual.

"If you are not a close contact, if you are not symptomatic, you do not need to get a test," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

When should I get a PCR test?

You should get a PCR test from a COVID-19 Testing site

  • If you are a close contact of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • If you have been directed by your Health Department to do so.

When should I use an at-home RAT?

You can take a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)

  • 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
  • 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
  • If you are unable to access a PCR test, taking a RAT over consecutive days can give you an indication that you are likely COVID negative or positive.

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 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. Swabbing 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 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. 

Register a positive rapid antigen test result

In NSW, You must register a positive rapid antigen test result as soon as possible after you get your result. You are able to add a positive result dating back to 1 January 2022. 

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

Register a positive RAT result for Victoria 

If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, you are a case.

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.

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