Since the discovery of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China in December 2019, it has spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic. COVID-19 has caused over 2 million deaths, as countries are ramping up testing capacity to identify patients and bring the disease under control.

Medical experts insist that the war against COVID-19 can only be won by increasing testing capacity, isolating infected individuals, and ensuring vaccine availability for everyone. “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test”. These were the words of Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).

COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 Testing is crucial as it allows the infected person to avoid infecting others and to quickly receive any medical care if needed. Given the high number of asymptomatic COVID-19 people, when infected, people don’t know that they are infected, might not stay at home – thereby running the risk of infecting others and consequently further spreading the Coronavirus.


According to Ministry of Health Services, the following different types of tests are available in Pakistan.

1. PCR Test:

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is part of the protocol recommended by the WHO, where swabbed samples are collected from a patient’s nose and throat. Test results are available within a few hours. The procedure tests for presence of virus in your body. You may be asked to do this test to confirm if you currently have COVID-19.

If positive: Confirms you currently have the virus and must self-isolate for 10 days and seek medical assistance if unwell. The test does not tell you how sick you might become or when you got the virus.

Here are the official guidelines on ‘Home Quarantine’ along with a list of Isolation Facilities’.

If negative: If you are experiencing symptoms you may be asked to retest after 2-3 days and continue to isolate.

2. Antigen Diagnostic Test:

Antigen test is used for very early detection of COVID-19. The test gives best results if done 2 days before symptoms till 5 days after symptoms.

 The result of this test is generally available within 30 minutes and costs less money. Currently available rapid antigen tests show a lower sensitivity compared to the standard RT-PCR test, while their specificity is generally reported to be high. Rapid antigen tests can be used for the early detection of cases when RT-PCR testing facility is not available and receiving timely results is critical.

If positive: Confirms you currently have the virus and must self-isolate for 10 days and seek medical assistance if unwell. The test does not tell you how sick you might become or when you got the virus.

If negative: Negative needs to be confirmed by PCR.

To learn more about Antigen Detection Rapid Test, please read the guidelines issued by the Government of Pakistan.

Note: A rapid test kit can also be acquired from your nearby pharmacy for self testing. You can learn how to use this test from the video given below.

3. Antibody Diagnostic Test:

Blood sample is collected from a patient for this test. This test is used to know if the patient was previously infected with COVID-19, and carries the antibodies produced by a person’s immune system to help fight off COVID-19. Test gives best results if done 7 to 14 days after symptoms.


If positive: Confirms you previously had the virus and had an immune response. The test does not inform about immunity or recovery.

If negative: It is likely that you have not had COVID-19.

Different Types of Coronavirus Tests


Molecular Test

Antigen Test

Antibody Test

Also known as...

Diagnostic test, viral test, molecular test, nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), RT-PCR test, LAMP test

Diagnostic test

Serological test, serology, blood test, serology test

How the sample is taken...

Nasopharyngeal (the part of the throat behind the nose), nasal or throat swab (most tests)

Saliva (a few tests)

Nasal or nasopharyngeal swab (most tests)

Finger stick or blood draw

How long it takes to get results...

Same day (some locations)

or up to a week (longer in some locations with many tests)

Some may be very fast (15 - 30 minutes), depending on the test

Same day (many locations)

or 1-3 days

Is another test needed...

This test is typically highly accurate and usually does not need to be repeated.

Positive results are usually highly accurate, but false positives can happen, especially in areas where very few people have the virus. Negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test.

Sometimes a second antibody test is needed for accurate results.

What it shows...

Diagnoses active coronavirus infection

Diagnoses active coronavirus infection

Shows if you’ve been infected by coronavirus in the past

What it cannot do...

Show if you ever had COVID-19 or were infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 in the past

Antigen tests are more likely to miss an active COVID-19 infection compared to molecular tests. Your health care provider may order a molecular test if your antigen test shows a negative result, but you have symptoms of COVID-19.

Diagnose COVID-19 at the time of the test or show that you do not have COVID-19

Source: Coronavirus Disease 2019 Testing Basics, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

You can also watch this video to know more about Covid-19 testing.

All Government-run Tertiary Care Hospitals offer COVID-19 tests free of charge if recommended by a doctor on a prescription. If you want to walk in for a test without doctor’s recommendation, the test can also be done with a fee.

Apart from the government health facilities, there are several other private testing facilities in Pakistan which conduct COVID-19 testing by charging a fee like Shifa Hospital, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, Al Khidmat Diagnostic Center & Blood Bank, Chugtai Labs and Aga Khan University Hospital Clinical laboratories. The Government of Pakistan has also issued a list of ‘Testing Facilities in Pakistan’ highlighting the name and contact details of hospitals and laboratories which offer reliable testing services. This list can be found here.

Private hospitals and laboratories typically charge nearly PKR 6,500 for a RT-PCR test and PKR 1500 for an Antibody Blood Test. Many hospitals and labs also offer services for home sample collection and online diagnostic report.   

How to Get Checked

A patient suspected to have symptoms of coronavirus should visit a government designated public or private hospital. An authentic and updated list of designated Tertiary Care hospitals in Pakistan can be found here. According to National Institute of Health (NIH) all district headquarter hospitals and tertiary care hospitals across the country are equipped to collect samples for coronavirus.

1. At the hospital, a doctor will check the patient for symptoms to determine if he or she may have the Novel Coronavirus.

2. The patient will be asked a set of questions regarding their travel history as well as of those they have been in close contact with.

3. If the doctor rules out suspicion of coronavirus, the patient will be sent back.

4. If the doctor concludes that the patient is manifesting COVID-19 symptoms, a swab of their saliva is taken and sent to one of the designated facilities that have coronavirus testing equipment. This testing will be done free of cost.

To receive personalized guidance on different service options in the country, you can write to us via Bolo Facebook, Monday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm.

You can also visit the Government of Pakistan COVID-19 Health Advisory Platform to get updates on the situation. To get more information on COVID-19 testing, symptoms or any other related queries, call at Sehat Tahaffuz Helpline at 1166.

If you have any question, you can drop us a private message on Bolo's Facebook Page.