Coronavirus tests: what are the different types?

Coronavirus tests: what are the different types?

PCR tests, rapid tests and self-tests are only three of the many terms which are frequently seen in news reports at the moment and about which there is much confusion. This health tip tries to shed a little light on the subject.
Testing is an essential aspect of the protective measures in the current coronavirus pandemic situation, regardless of whether you have symptoms or not. More and more test variants have been added in recent months. Since 7 April 2021, it has even been possible to carry out self-tests at home. However, the various test types are used and evaluated in different ways.

PCR test ("the gold standard")

The PCR test is the standard test that has been available since the start of the pandemic. A sample can be taken by a healthcare professional (a nasal/pharyngeal swab) or by the affected individual (spit test) provided that this is done under the supervision of someone with appropriate training. The sample is then analysed in a laboratory. PCR test results are extremely reliable, regardless of whether the test subject has symptoms or not.

Rapid test

Rapid tests (nasal/pharyngeal swabs) are already carried out today by health professionals (e.g. in pharmacies, test centres and medical practices). They are not sent to a laboratory for evaluation, but are instead evaluated at the test site. The results are usually available in about 15 minutes. This makes it easier for those who are being tested and makes testing more generally acceptable. Rapid tests are not quite as reliable as PCR tests, which is why one should have a PCR test in the event of new or persistent symptoms following a negative rapid test.


Self-testSelf-testing can be carried out (at home, for example) with the result being read by the test subject. A positive self-test must be verified in any case by means of a PCR test. Once again, if there are new or persistent symptoms, a PCR test should be carried out despite a negative test result. Since 7 April 2021 everyone can obtain five self-test kits per month free of charge from a pharmacy. The recommendation is that these tests should be used in any case. This, together with mask-wearing, social distancing and hygiene precautions, will increase safety (e.g. at planned private or business meetings).

Mass testing

Mass testing is carried out repeatedly on specific groups (e.g. in schools, companies or nursing homes) and can be performed but not evaluated by the participants themselves. The tests are evaluated in a laboratory using the PCR method ("the gold standard").

Further information on the subject of Covid 19 testing can be found on the Website of the Federal Office of Public Health FOPH (in German).

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