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According to the GOV.UK website, fully-vaccinated individuals are permitted entry into England from outside the UK, but a Day 2 PCR test is required. This test may be taken any time within two days of entry into England - even immediately upon arrival at Heathrow. It also helpfully provides a filterable list of providers that will do Day 2 PCR testing, and inbound travellers are required to book such a test before departing for England.

However, there are options for a "self-test at your location" and a "self-test at a provider site", in addition to supervised tests. This surprises me. I am aware of two common methods of swabbing for PCR tests - the nasopharyngeal swab, which is inserted through one's nostril deep into the back of the nose, and the throat swab, which is inserted through one's mouth to the back of the throat. Unlike lateral flow tests (a.k.a. antigen rapid tests), both methods of PCR swabbing reach far deeper into the orifices of the patient's body, and often induce a bit of a gag reflex. This probably makes swabbing oneself difficult, dangerous or even impossible. In Singapore, for example, PCR self-tests are unheard of - you have to go to a clinic to get swabbed and the swab is performed by a medical professional.

The abovementioned website does not say anything to suggest that those PCR tests are not the same as the typical nasopharyngeal or throat swab that is administered by a professional. Does anyone know how the self-swabbing is carried out, and which part (of the nose/mouth) will be swabbed? Does "PCR testing" mean something slightly different in the UK (in terms of user experience)?

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    I had various tests in summer 2021. The professionally administered ones seemed to go about as deep whether they were PCR or lateral flow tests, and I think that the instructions on the self-swabbing tests were to do the same. It's hard to be sure how well I did it, but I was certainly aiming to do the same as had been done to me in the test centre, and I think I achieved it. More recently the lateral flow tests (both clinic and self-swab) seem to go much less deep. I don't know why it changed, maybe people were reluctant to go deeper, or maybe shallow is just as accurate.
    – djr
    Dec 28, 2021 at 16:26
  • Note that in the UK even the on-site PCR tests under the NHS are self-administered. It's only private ones that are done by a professional. Jan 5 at 11:24

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My experience in Europe and Canada is that even the professionals don't go nearly as far into the nostrils as the ones collecting samples in e.g. China. It's more nasal than nasopharyngeal (if throat sample is not used).

In any case, you can look at the instruction guide for home PCR tests provided by the UK government. Tests from other providers may be different but should not differ too much. Both throat and nasal swabs are needed (you would usually prefer to do the throat sample first).

Hold the swab in your hand, open your mouth wide and tilt your head back. Gently rub the fabric tip of the swab over both tonsils (or where they would have been). Do this with good contact 4 times on each side. Carefully remove the swab.

Put the same end of the same swab gently into the nostril about 2.5cm or until you feel some resistance.

Some people may still be uncomfortable or unable to perform the test properly, but it is not really dangerous or too difficult for most people, if unpleasant.

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  • I wonder how sensitive these less deep tests are.
    – Bernard
    Dec 27, 2021 at 16:54

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