COVID-19: Rapid antigen tests

Also called RATs

RATs (rapid antigen testing) are the main form of COVID-19 testing in Aotearoa NZ. Here are answers to some common questions about RATs.

On this page you will find information on:

What is a rapid antigen test and how do I use one?

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are currently New Zealand’s primary testing tool for people with COVID-19 symptoms or household contacts.

RAT is one method of testing for COVID-19 infection. It is generally taken with a front of nose swab. Tests can be carried out under supervision (done by a healthcare professional), or you can do it yourself.

Rapid antigen test results are available in about 20 minutes compared to 2–5 days for a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. A PCR test is more accurate but to relieve the pressure on the PCR testing system, RAT tests will be used more often as the outbreak grows. See below: Why is the PCR more accurate than the rapid antigen test?

Find out more about when you should have a test. 

How to use a rapid antigen test
  • How to take the test will vary, depending on the brand of RAT. If you are doing the test yourself, we recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. You can find these instructions inside with the testing kit. You can also read Ministry of Health advice on how to use a RAT test. 
  • All RAT kits should be kept out of reach of young children and stored safely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If you need support to carry out a test or to understand the results, call Healthline free on 0800 358 5453.

What do the rapid antigen test results mean?

If you get a negative test result and do not have symptoms, you continue doing your day to day activities like going to work or school.
If you get a negative test result but you do have symptoms, stay at home and take another RAT 48 hours later.
If you get a positive test result, you must self-isolate immediately and report your result (as below and to your workplace). You will NOT need to get a follow-up PCR test unless you have travelled into Aotearoa New Zealand and have a positive RAT result. This is so we can identify any new variants and only a PCR test can help show that.  
If a result is failed or indeterminate you must take the test again. 

Do I need to report my RAT results?

Yes, report the results of your RAT through My Covid Record. Record all results (positive and negative) as it helps us better understand the outbreak.

To report your result, log in to your My Covid Record account mycovidrecord.nz or call 0800 222 478 and press option 3. 

Parents and caregivers can now choose to use My Covid Record to report RAT results for children under 12 and other family members instead of calling the 0800 222 478 number. If you are having problems getting your tamariki's results registered, your GP surgery can help with that. Read more about how to record your RAT results.  

Image credit: Canva

Where can I get a rapid antigen test?

  • RATs are being distributed around the country to testing sites, GPs, pharmacies and within workplaces. 
  • Locations which have RATs available can be found on the HealthPoint website. Find pharmacies offering supervised RATs.  
  • You can order free RAT kits for home testing even if you have not got symptoms or been in contact with somebody with COVID-19. Apply here. 
  • You will need to collect your RAT kits from a community collection site and you may be given free medical face masks as well.  
  • Approved RATs are available for sale to the public in pharmacies and some other retail outlets

Who can get a rapid antigen test?

Members of the public

  • If you develop symptoms, or become a Household Contact of a case or if you have been told to get a test by a health official you can get a RAT test. This will be free. You can order one through the RAT requester site.
  • If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms and you are not a Household Contact but want to take a test, such as before going to visit friends or whānau, you can buy a RAT.

Businesses

Businesses may also choose to use their own private supplies of RATs with their workforce. Surveillance testing (regular testing for employees who do not have symptoms and are not close contacts) for workplaces is not publicly funded. If your business wishes to complete surveillance testing this needs to be organised through a private laboratory and testing provider.

Travellers

  • Newly arrived international travellers will be given free RATs and encouraged to test on day 1 and day 5 or 6. 
  • Travel domestically:  There are no testing requirements for domestic travel. 

Learn more

How to get a COVID-19 test Unite against COVID-19, NZ
Rapid antigen testing
Ministry of Health, NZ
Rapid antigen testing - a guide for critical workers  Ministry of Health, NZ
RAT guide in non English languages Ministry of Health, NZ
Guidance for workplaces with staff impacted by COVID-19 Ministry of Health, NZ
BusinessNZ maintains a list of commercial suppliers of RATs BusinessNZ

References

  1. Interim guidance for antigen testing for SARS-CoV-2 CDC
  2. Saliva testing, and rapid antigen tests (RAT), for SARS CoV-2 in Aotearoa NZ Pathways Communication, NZ, 2021
  3. Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) CDC
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.