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What are the criteria for coronavirus testing on the NHS?

Prince Charles is the latest high profile person to test positive for Covid-19. Credit: PA

More than 90,000 people have so far been tested for coronavirus in the UK, but what are the criteria to be eligible for testing?

Questions have been raised after some high profile figures - who presented mild or even no symptoms - were able to get tests when others cannot.

It comes as the Government has faced criticism for test kits not being more widely available, especially to those medical staff working on the frontline of the crisis.

Technicians handle suspected COVID-19 samples as they carry out a diagnostic test at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Credit: PA

The current Public Health England (PHE) criteria for testing divides patients into two categories:

Inpatients, requiring hospital admission:

Patients who have been deemed ill enough to require spending at least one night in hospital meet the criteria for a Covid-19 test if they also have:

  • Either clinical or radiological evidence of pneumonia or
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Influenza like illness with respiratory symptoms including a persistent cough, hoarseness, nasal discharge or congestion, shortness of breath, sore throat, wheezing, sneezing

PHE guidelines also note that inpatients could meet the criteria for a test if they develop "new respiratory symptoms or fever without another cause" or if a pre-existing respiratory condition get worse.

Some countries have set up drive-through testingg sites like this one in Nebraska, USA. Credit: AP

Patients well enough to stay out of hospital:

Not everybody who meets the criteria for a coronavirus test has to be hospitalised - evident in some of the high profile confirmed cases reported.

For patients staying at home in self-isolation, a test could be administered if they develop a "new continuous cough" and/or "high temperature".

Guidance says clinicians should be "alert" to "atypical" symptoms in patients who are "immunocompromised" - a high risk group.

Medical staff are also being encouraged to consider "alternative clinical diagnoses and epidemiological risk factors" when deciding whether to test a patient.

Prior to testing, the pair have been taking precautions - like not shaking hands - at recent engagements. Credit: PA

Despite the relatively strict criteria for testing, social media users have queried how high profile figures have secured tests for the virus.

It was announced on Wednesday that the Prince of Wales had tested positive for coronavirus after "displaying mild symptoms".

A statement from Clarence House said the Duchess of Cornwall had also been tested for Covid-19 but she "does not have the virus".

The statement added: "The tests were carried out by the NHS in Aberdeenshire where they [Charles and Camilla] met the criteria required for testing."

The NHS Scotland website says people will only generally be tested for Covid-19 if they "have a serious illness that requires admission to hospital".

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But a member of the Scottish Parliament expressed surprise Prince Charles was tested for Covid-19 on the NHS.

Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, tweeted that she wishes Charles a speedy recovery, but added:

"Given that his symptoms are said to be mild, like many I wonder how he was tested when many NHS and social care workers cannot get tested."

Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said: "I've discussed with the team in NHS Grampian and from the information I've been given it's clear he was tested for clinical reasons".

Charles and Camilla are both aged over 70 - the age group told to take social distancing particularly seriously, regardless of any medical conditions.

Idris Elba said it was easier to secure a coronavirus test because he was at work. Credit: PA

Actor Idris Elba has addressed questions raised on social media about how he came to be tested for Covid-19, despite not displaying symptoms.

In a video on his Twitter page, the Luther star explained he had been in contact with a person who had tested positive for coronavirus.

He said: "It was definitely something that I had to do because I was around a lot of people.

"Quite honestly, my job made me test immediately. I had to test anyway because it meant putting a lot of people at risk if I had been exposed."

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The actor said: "We got a test immediately, and we were really lucky to get a test immediately because of the shortage of tests".

The 47-year-old admitted "getting a test is really, really hard" and said - had he not been at work - it would have been harder for him to secure a test kit.