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 Aotearoa 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 credits: Canva. RAT test.

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 if you have symptoms or are a Household Contact. You can order for yourself or on behalf of someone else.
    • You will need access to a mobile phone so you can confirm your order. You can order RATs from the website: requestrats.covid19.health.nz or via a free call at 0800 222 478 option 3.
    • If you are eligible for RATs for home testing will be issued an order number. You can then pick up your RAT order from a collection site listed on Healthpoint, or have someone collect your order for you. Read more about eligibility for accessing a RAT to use at home.
    • A delivery option is currently being worked on.
  • Approved RATs are available for sale to the public in some pharmacies. 

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.

Critical workers

If you are a fully vaccinated critical worker who has been identified as a household contact, but you do not have any symptoms, you can get free RATs under the Close Contact Exemption Scheme so you can keep working. Learn more about this.

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 travellers will need a negative COVID-19 test result to travel to New Zealand or other countries. 
  • Travel domestically: Some transport providers may require you to show My Vaccine Pass or a negative COVID-19 test result before boarding. Free RAT tests are available at participating pharmacies if you are asymptomatic, unvaccinated, aged 12 years and 3 months or over and travelling domestically with a transport company that requires testing of unvaccinated individuals.

Read more about the above and also other groups who can access RATs. 

Why is the PCR more accurate than the rapid antigen test?

Rapid antigen testing looks for proteins that are found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The proteins are also called antigens. These proteins are only present if you have an active COVID-19 infection.

The PCR technology is able to amplify (by copying) even small amounts of viral genetic material. This means it is very sensitive to picking up the COVID virus if you have the virus at the time of the test, or even just after you have recovered and are no longer infected. This is why the PCR test is far more accurate than rapid antigen tests. 

Even though the PCR test is more accurate, as the Omicron outbreak develops, RATs will be used more often as the sample doesn’t need to go to a lab to be processed. This is to relieve pressure on the PCR testing system (as PCR tests need to be processed in a lab).

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, NZ

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.