PCR tests

Last Updated: 01 May 2022 11:59pm

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COVID-19 testing clinics in Tasmania use PCR (polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic tests. PCR tests are highly accurate for detecting an active infection of COVID-19.

You can get a PCR test at a COVID-19 testing clinic by using the online form or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738. Some testing clinics do not take bookings, go directly to the site.

A PCR test involves taking a sample by swabbing your throat and both nostrils, and the sample is sent to a laboratory for processing.

Who should get a PCR test

You should get a PCR test at a testing clinic when:

  • you are having difficulty accessing or using a RAT,
  • you get an invalid result after taking a RAT,
  • you get a negative RAT result and have ongoing symptoms
  • you have already had COVID-19 and you get a positive RAT result
  • your GP or medical practitioner recommends you get a PCR test.

Find out more about testing after having COVID-19.

Public Health advise the following people should have a PCR test, rather than a rapid antigen test (RAT):

  • People with immunodeficiency
    • Hematologic neoplasms: leukaemia, lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome
    • Transplant recipients
    • Immunocompromised (primary or acquired)
  • People receiving immunosuppressive therapy
    • Chemo or radiotherapy
    • High dose corticosteroids (more than 20mg per day for 14 days or longer)
    • Immunomodulating biologics and most disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS)
  • People who receive dialysis
  • People who have end stage renal failure
  • People who are not fully vaccinated referred by their GP due to risk factors

People with disability, who may not be able to be tested in a drive-through clinic, should contact their GP or the Public Health Hotline for referral to the most appropriate clinic or to arrange an alternative testing process.

Where to get a test

Drive-through PCR testing clinics

  • Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.
  • Bookings or drive up no booking options available.
  • Free, including if you are not covered by Medicare.
  • Provide testing only, not health assessments or advice on managing symptoms.
  • Results usually provided within 48 hours.

GP-led respiratory clinics

  • Hobart, Launceston and St Helens.
  • Free, including if you are not covered by Medicare.
  • Provide assessment, testing, and initial treatment of symptoms.
  • Bookings are required- see where to get a PCR test. A doctor’s referral is not required.
  • Staff will be in full PPE. You should wear a mask and will be asked to wait in your car until your appointment.
  • Best option if you need to see a GP but can’t see your own; if you have underlying health conditions; and for children, particularly aged under five years.
  • Results usually provided within 48 hours.

Booking process

When you arrange a PCR test at a testing clinic using the online form or by calling the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738, you will receive a call back to book your test.

To get tested as quickly as possible:

  • Have your phone with you and be ready to be contacted.
  • Make sure your phone settings don’t block unknown numbers.
  • Be ready to provide your details over the phone.

Cancelling a test

If you booked via the online form or by calling the Public Health Hotline, please call the Hotline on 1800 671 738 to cancel your test.

It is important to still get tested, even if your symptoms are mild or easing.

If you were not able to rebook at the time you cancelled, and have not taken a RAT, be sure to get tested, see where to get a PCR test.

Travelling to your test

If you are  having a test because you have symptoms but you do not have your own transport, let your GP know or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738, as travel assistance may be available.

It is important to protect others when travelling to have your test.

When travelling to get tested:

  • wear a face mask to protect others
  • before leaving home, make sure you and anyone travelling with you, wash their hands well, with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitiser if hands are not visibly dirty)
  • maintain physical distancing of at least 1.5m between people
  • sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue and clean your hands after coughing or sneezing
  • go straight to the GP or testing clinic – don't stop on the way there or back

Transport when you are high-risk

If you are being tested because you have symptoms and there is a higher risk of you having COVID-19, please do not travel by bus, taxi or ride-sharing service.

People who have symptoms and are at higher risk of having COVID-19 include:

  • people who are a close contact of a confirmed case
  • health and aged care workers who have symptoms of COVID-19.

Transport when you are not high-risk

If you are being tested because you have symptoms, but have not been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, then it is best to travel by private car, but okay to travel by public transport (bus, taxis or rideshare etc) if you need to.

Using private transport

If another person drives you to get tested:

  • Minimise the number of people in the car - it is best if it is just the driver and you.
  • Avoid physical contact with the driver. Keep at least 1.5 metres distance whenever possible.
  • Sit in the back seat opposite the driver.

Your driver does not need to isolate with you but should be alert for any cold or flu-like symptoms and isolate themselves and arrange testing straight away if symptoms develop.

Waiting for a PCR test result

Test results are usually provided within 48 hours. While you wait for your test result:

  • you must isolate
  • you must stay at home
  • don’t go to work or school.

Read more about isolation.

If you become very unwell or have difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Let the operator know you have had a COVID-19 test and are awaiting your test result.

View I've been tested whats next fact sheet for more information.

Support while waiting for your result

A grant may be available if you have to miss work while waiting for a COVID-19 test result. Read more about Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants.

If you need help with supplies or essential tasks outside your home while isolating, ask a friend or family member to help. Tell them to leave supplies at your door.

If you don’t have someone to help you, read about the support available  or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

PCR test results

A PCR test may provide a positive, negative or borderline result.

Positive PCR result

A positive PCR result means that genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected from the sample. This means that it is likely that you have an infection with SARS-CoV-2.

If you have a positive PCR result, you:

  • will be notified of your positive result by Public Health and they will ask you to provide some details to assist you to access care.
  • must isolate away from others at your home/suitable accommodation

Negative PCR result

A negative PCR result means that you are unlikely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 at the time your sample was taken. It is possible that the virus is not detected by the test, even though you have COVID-19. This might happen if you are in the very early stages of the infection.

Continue to practice COVID-safe behaviours and if you have symptoms and they continue, consult your doctor or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

Borderline or equivocal PCR result

A borderline or equivocal PCR result means that there are low levels of SARS-CoV2 RNA (the virus that causes COVID-19) present in the sample. This may indicate early infection, be due to detection of residual viral particles from a past infection or rarely a false positive result. Anyone with  borderline result should have a further test collected 24-48 hours after the first test.

The lab will contact you by text/SMS message to ask you to get another PCR test at a testing clinic.

The second PCR test - collected within 24-48 hours from the same testing clinic - will determine whether this is a new or old infection.

Ensure you isolate while waiting for your second test result.

What does your test result mean?

1st test result

2nd test result within 24-48 hours

Likely interpretation

Borderline

Negative

Past infection or a false positive

Borderline

Positive

New COVID infection

Borderline

Borderline

Past infection or a false positive