If you’ve been following the COVID news, it’s likely you’ll have heard about PCR Test Certificates. But what actually are these certificates, where do you get them, and what do you need them for? MyHealthChecked Clinical Director Greg Fitzgibbon explains…
If you’ve got a flight to catch, or want to be really sure about your COVID status, you’ll want to know about PCR tests – and how proof of a negative result can provide real peace of mind, as well as the go-ahead to travel. Here is what you need to know about PCR test certificates, and how to get them.
What is a PCR Test Certificate?
A PCR Certificate is a document that proves that you have taken a PCR COVID test, and that the result has come back negative. They are provided as a report, by the company who completes the analysis on a swab sample you – or your doctor – takes and sends for analysis.
What is a PCR test?
PCR tests are the most accurate form of COVID testing available at the moment, with some tests providing accuracy rates of up to 99.9%. These tests are ‘diagnostic’ – they can tell if you have the active infection at the time of testing.
PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) – a method of analysing a COVID sample at a molecular level, and the most sensitive way to detect the genetic presence of the virus. For those of you interested in the science, the FDA sums it up well:
“In PCR testing, a machine located in a laboratory, runs a series of reactions. These reactions first convert the virus’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), if present, into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and then amplify it (make millions of copies of the DNA); the test then detects this DNA. By running multiple amplification cycles, a PCR test can sense even low levels of viral genetic material in a patient’s sample, so these tests tend to be highly sensitive (especially laboratory PCR tests).”
What does that mean to you?
Because of the way PCR tests are analysed, it’s possible for scientists to detect minute amounts of COVID genetics in samples – it’s a highly sensitive test that has a low false-negative rate.
This is one of the reasons why PCR tests are the test of choice for most governments and airlines. So if you want to travel – or if you just want accurate answers on your COVID status – a PCR test makes sense.
Is the PCR Test Certificate the same as Fit-to-Fly?
These are different documents. The PCR Certificate proves that you have taken the test, and results have returned ‘negative’. Meanwhile, ‘Fit-to-Fly’ is a bit misleading, because here are two documents of this kind: Standard Fit-to-Fly Certificate; and the COVID-19 Fit-for-Travel Certificate.
The Standard Fit-to-Fly Certificate covers a range of different circumstances, from travelling late in the third trimester of pregnancy, through to travelling after an injury or surgery. You usually get these from your GP – for free or a nominal fee – though some private firms specialise in them if you need certification fast.
The COVID-19 Fit-for-Travel Certificate or COVID-19 Fit-to-Fly Certificate appears to be an emerging trend. This is where a qualified doctor adds an extra layer of certification over a negative COVID test result. However, not all COVID-19 Fit-to-Fly Certificates use a PCR test – you might end up with an expensive certificate and a less-reliable antigen test.
When do you need a PCR Test Certificate?
The best way to know that you’ve got the right certification to travel is to check on the foreign office website, check with your airline, and perhaps with the embassy of the country you plan to visit. If you can’t find reliable results online, a quick phone call could save you time, hassle and money.
You’ll need to know:
- What kind of COVID test is required?
- When should you take the test?
- Do you need to isolate before/after?
- Does the result need to be certified by a doctor
- What are the specific needs of each country
PCR and Test-To-Release
At time of publishing, it’s looking likely that PCR tests will be used in the Government’s Test-to-Release programme. This initiative will mean that you may be able to reduce quarantine time after overseas travel if you isolate for 5 days, and take a COVID test to be ‘released’. Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, explains:
“Ensuring that safe travel is possible has been a priority for the Global Travel Taskforce. This test on day 5 of the 14-day self-isolation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.
This will be done at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace and ensure that any UK resident who has symptoms is able to get a test.”https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-test-to-release-for-international-travel
How do you get a PCR Test Certificate?
That’s the easiest question to answer – you can get one right here at myHealthChecked! There’s more information on the COVID-19 test page.
You can’t get a free PCR Test Certificate for travel purposes on the NHS, and you are advised to use a private provider in this circumstance. You can read more about eligibility for the free NHS tests in this article.
Did you find this guide useful? Do you have any questions you would like us to answer? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment – or contact the MyHealthChecked team.
Dr Greg Fitzgibbon, PhD, DipRCPath, is an eminent clinical scientist and entrepreneur in the world of biotechnology. Greg is MyHealthChecked Clinical Director, with New York State Department of Health Certificate of Qualification. Greg holds a Doctorate in Molecular Biology, is a Diplomate of the Royal College of Pathologists, and brings 8 years’ experience in Clinical Science for the NHS, plus a wealth of experience leading in biotech.
Last reviewed on 28th November, 2020