Covid-19 testing extended to local retailers

Coronavirus tester

Free testing for coronavirus has been extended to include local retailers, but only after an 11th hour intervention by the Scottish Grocers’ Federation.

by Antony Begley


The UK Government has extended Covid-19 testing to essential workers with symptoms and people who live with essential workers and have symptoms. This includes workers involved in the sale of food including convenience retailers and their staff. The Scottish Government’s interpretation of the new extension, however, failed to include local retailers and instead specified only supermarket workers.

The error was picked up by the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) on Saturday and Chief Executive Pete Cheema quickly wrote to the Scottish Government to highlight the glaring error and was rewarded with a response on Monday confirming that convenience retailers would also be included in the free testing package as they are considered essential workers by Holyrood.

As a result of SGF’s intervention, access to Covid-19 testing in Scotland has been widened and will now be determined via a prioritisation matrix for key workers that includes a broader range of private sector workers and essential services.

Understandably, priority will still be given to health and social care workers who will be primarily routed through NHS testing at local NHS facilities. The UK Government programme in Scotland, however, is additional capacity to supplement NHS testing.

Testing is now being extended to include “all symptomatic people categorised as key workers and members of their household”.

The Scottish Government website states: “We need to ensure those critical to the sustained functioning of the economy and public services have access to testing that enables them to continue their vital work.”

The original wording detailing the extension of testing listed retail workers within a group designated as “staff directly involved in delivering other essential services” but specifically referred only to “supermarket workers”. Thanks to SGF’s intervention, local retailers are now also included.

When to get tested?

  • The test is only guaranteed to be accurate if someone is symptomatic so testing is still targeted at those key workers who are self-isolating because they are symptomatic, or have household members who have symptoms.
  • Retailers and their staff should get tested in the first three days of coronavirus symptoms appearing, although testing is considered effective up until day five.
  • No testing should be undertaken after day five, unless it’s for a specific reason which will be agreed on a case by case basis by local microbiologists.
  • If you are self-isolating because a person you live with has symptoms, you can refer them for testing.

Negative tests and returning to work

  • Even if a key worker has had a negative result, it’s important to still apply caution.
  • If everyone with symptoms who was tested in their household receive a negative result, the employee can return to work if their work cannot be done from home, providing they are well enough, and have not had a fever for 48 hours.
  • If, after returning to work, they develop symptoms they should follow the NHS Inform guidance and self-isolate. Employees should discuss their return to work with their employer.

Test results and staying safe

  • The test will confirm if an individual who is showing symptoms of the virus actually has it. It will not confirm whether they have had it and have now recovered.

What happens to the test results?

  • Results under the UK testing programme are communicated to individuals directly by text message and are intended to be fed back into public health records in due course. The target for sending results is by text within 48 hours.

Arranging a test if you are a key worker

Eligible key workers will be notified of where to go to get their test through the booking arrangements described below.

Testing under the UK programme in Scotland is currently conducted in drive-through sites operating at:

  • Glasgow Airport
  • Edinburgh Airport
  • Aberdeen Airport
  • University of the Highlands and Islands campus in Inverness

These facilities are run by private sector organisations on behalf of the UK Government. This guidance will be updated as additional testing capacity is deployed.

A limited number of home test kits are also available.

Employer portal

  • A new website has been established to improve the process of booking tests.
  • Eligible employers can register and refer staff for appointments or eligible key workers will be able to book a test directly for themselves or members of their household.
  • After they have entered their details on the portal, individuals will receive a text or email the same day inviting them to either book an appointment or get sent a home self-testing kit.
  • Those using self-referral can indicate their preference prior to registering details.
  • The UK programme is expected to include an option for booking a home-test to be delivered where attendance at a drive through centre is not practicable.
  • A call centre is available by phone, to help people with the process and deal with test result queries.

Obtain a login for the employer referral portal

  • In order to obtain a login, employers of key workers should email portalservicedesk@dhsc.gov.uk with two email addresses that will primarily be used to load key worker contact details.
  • Once employer details have been verified, two login credentials will be issued for the employer referral portal
  • Employers should then login at coronavirus-invite-testing.service.gov.uk/DaraTestDemand/Login to make referrals.

Self-referral portal

Home tests

  • Home test kits are an option where key workers are unable to attend a drive-through centre, subject to availability. This option is covered in the booking process.
  • Essential workers who have completed a self-referral may have the option, depending on available capacity, to book a home-test kit.
  • Amazon and Royal Mail are the commercial partners being used to deliver Home Testing nationwide. They do not have access to the results or any health data.

How home testing works

  • After you complete a self-referral and order a home-test kit, the test would then be delivered the next day, and the essential worker or household member would self-administer the swab, packing it up as per the included instructions.
  • A Royal Mail courier will arrive the day after to collect it and take it to the lab. The aim is that results will then be received via text within 48 hours.