Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical for tracking the virus, understanding the epidemiology, informing the case management, suppressing transmission and for containing the infection.

Real-Time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test

The virus can be detected using Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR test (recommended by WHO), which can quickly tell if someone harbors the virus (4 to 6 hours).
Recommended samples for RT-PCR: Nasopharyngeal or Throat or Nasal swabs, Sputum, lower respiratory tract aspirates, Bronchoalveolar lavage and Nasopharyngeal wash/aspirate or nasal aspirate.
Samples must be collected and tested from individuals who meet COVID-19.
Clinical and/or epidemiological criteria, listed below:

  • Clinical signs and symptoms associated with COVID-19 infection,
  • Contact with a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case,
  • History of travel to geographic locations where COVID-19 cases were detected, or other epidemiological links for which COVID-19 testing may be indicated


  • Gold standard for diagnosis
  • High sensitivity and specificity


  • Turn around Time is 24-48 hours
  • Requires trained technicians
  • Requires expensive equipment and infrastructure
  • Complicated operation (suited to large centralized diagnostic laboratories)
  • Prone to False Negatives (due to low viral loads)