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Testing for the virus

Who and why are being tested for COVID-19 and how?

  • People are tested when they are symptomatic and it is medically indicated.
  • The necessity of testing is decided by the family doctor who sends the patient to be tested.
  • The family doctor has been issued with guidelines but the final decision is always the family doctor’s medical decision that she takes, knowing the patients in her list, taking into consideration the patient’s symptoms, general health condition and all additional diseases.
  • The doctor will evaluate all cases individually.
  • Testing priority is given to older people and the chronically ill, regardless of their age, which means that in justified cases people of all ages are tested if there is a medical indication.
  • The guidelines that were agreed upon between the family doctors and the Estonian Health Board are there to aid the doctor, and all recommendations in the guidelines should be viewed in combination. Determining that a person belongs to a risk group and making the decision are a doctor’s responsibility, a person himself cannot and should not do this.
  • Testing does not change the treatment, a doctor is guided by a person’s symptoms and general condition, also taking account additional chronic diseases.
  • All hospitalised patients who have corona virus symptoms are also tested.
  • Random sampling will also be used to test medical workers without symptoms of illness, care home workers, social workers, police and border guard officers, rescue service workers and other front line persons, who due to their work may pose a danger to the risk groups.

Following the principles of testing is necessary in the current crises in order to rationally use personal protective equipment, laboratory equipment and medical workers. We have to guarantee that the health care system is operational in longer term.

If a person gets sick or has any other health concerns, his first contact is his family doctor or the family doctor help line 1220.

What kind of tests are currently used for early detection of a coronavirus infection?

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommend using molecular assays that detect SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA. These require well-equipped laboratories, skilled specialists and several reagents. At the same time the testing capability will not be able to keep up with the growing demand.

Several rapid tests that give a result in only 10 to 30 minutes have been developed. In order to guarantee the reliability of the results from these, the rapid tests have to be clinically validated. The WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory is currently validating commercial testing kits. The European Commission along with the member states is financing accelerated clinical validation studies of COVID-19 diagnostic rapid tests in the hospital laboratories of several member states.

The scientific publication of the results should soon bring clarity to how the diagnostic rapid tests work clinically, what their limitations are, and which tests are sufficiently safe and reliable to be used in medicine and public health. In validating the rapid tests, the ECDC is working in close co-operation with the European Commission, the authorities of the member states, a non-profit organization FIND ( that is developing laboratory diagnostics, and WHO. The member states are notified immediately after the results have become clear.

Is there information on the longevity of the immunity achieved after suffering through the coronavirus? How long might it last?

It is too early to say whether suffering though the disease will create immunity. The virus is new, only having emerged at the end of December. Based on previous viruses, including coronaviruses, it is probable that protecting antibodies will appear in people. But we cannot presume it with absolute certainty yet.

What will the planned sero-epidemiological study show?

Seroepidemiological studies enable to determine whether there are virus antibodies in the blood.

If the virus has entered the organism and the person is presenting with symptoms, then about 5-10 days after the symptoms appear, the body starts to produce antibodies to fight the virus. Therefore, testing for antibodies is not necessary during the early stage of the disease. That is also the reason why the antibodies test cannot form the basis of determining the need for self-isolation.

Both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimate that determining antibodies might be necessary for assessing the immunity of the population, (resistance to virus(es)) during later sero-epidemiological studies.

On 16 April 2020, the government decided to support two sero-epidemiological studies in Estonia to determine the extent of the spread of coronavirus in the country.

With the testing it is hoped to receive information about how many people have been impacted by coronavirus. Results of the study will help to decide which emergency situation restrictions can be lifted. A population-based sero-epidemiological (i.e. virus antibody-determining) study certainly does not mean testing the entire population, but a representative sample will be selected for testing. Participation in the planned study is optional.

Testing will be carried out under the research project of the COVID-19 monitoring system and will be carried out by the research team of the University of Tartu. People will be selected based on random selection for testing across Estonia. Weekly, 2,000 people will be tested, regardless if they have symptoms or not, so it would be possible to assess the spread of the infection across the country in different counties and population groups. The results of the study shall be communicated to the Government Committee every week.

The sero-epidemiological research pilot project will be carried out in Saaremaa and Õismäe. The purpose of the study is to determine how many people have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The random selections of both communities will be established by the Estonian Health Insurance Fund. The total number of subjects is 1,080 people from Saaremaa and 1,080 people from Õismäe. A sample of blood will be taken from the vein, and the presence of antibodies will be determined, which shows whether a person has been infected with COVID-19. Recruitment of volunteers and sampling will be carried out by the family physicians. The study will take place from May 1 to July 31. The pilot project will be co-ordinated by the research group of the University of Tartu.

Why can´t everybody be checked for coronavirus?

Testing of any person suspected of coronavirus was appropriate when we tried to prevent the virus from entering Estonia, the aim was to detect possible cases as soon as possible, isolate the infected persons and prevent further spread of the virus.

In order for the health care system to be able to handle patients with severe symptoms, we must now focus on slowing down the spread of the virus, finding serious cases in time and treating them. Above all, we must protect vulnerable groups who are at greater risk.

The result of the test will not provide the necessary information for people to look after themselves, as there is no specific treatment, and it is only possible to alleviate the symptoms. The need for testing will be decided by the doctor. Doctors have been given instructions indicating the risk groups for which testing is recommended in the event of illness. It is left to the discretion of the family physician to decide who will be referred for a test.

The tests are carried out primarily on people who are hospitalised due to coronavirus, people at risk (aged, chronic patients, people with compromised immune systems, health care professionals and staff of social welfare institutions), and on the basis of a random selection of health care professionals without symptoms, staff of social welfare institutions, police, rescue staff and other people on the front line, who due to their tasks can pose a threat to risk groups.

Healthcare resources are limited. The test kits and personal protective equipment needed for testing are running out everywhere in the world. Therefore, we need to use the available resources in a sustainable manner in order to be able to continue the work long term.

Testing people without disease symptoms just as an assurance is not appropriate, the test result may be a false negative, the result refers only to the condition at that spedific time, and does not exclude future infection.

To slow the spread of the disease, it is most important for everyone to avoid contact with infected persons, avoid contacts with other people, follow regular hygiene rules, and anyone who becomes ill must stay at home until they are well. In case of illness, you must contact your family physician or clinic, if your condition deteriorates – if you experience shortages of breath or breathing difficulties, call the emergency line 112.

What is a rapid coronavirus test coronavirus, and why is not used in Estonia?

Based on current knowledge and technology, the only reliable method for early diagnosis of coronavirus Covid-19 and the detection of infectious cases is the coronavirus RNA (nucleic acid) test. A nasal cotton swab will be taken. RNA diagnostics are carried out by major hospital laboratories and by SYNLAB and the Laboratory of The Health Board.

Other so-called serological rapid tests on the market which determine blood antigens or antibodies are not reliable and are not capable of assessing the patient's infection risks. According to the latest studies, early antibodies against coronavirus will develop 5-10 days after the onset of symptoms. Since the patient is highly infectious throughout this period, an antibody test is not suitable for early diagnosis of the disease and for determining the need for quarantine. Such rapid tests provide many false negative answers, which is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are not recommending using them at the present stage. At the same time, both the WHO and the ECDC estimate that the determination of antibodies may be necessary for subsequent sero-epidemiological testing to assess the immunity of the population. At present, specialists and scientists believe that reliable sero-epidemiological tests can only be carried out under laboratory conditions.

A number of rapid tests have been developed, which will only take 10 to 30 minutes to provide the result. In order to ensure the reliability of the results obtained by them, rapid tests must be clinically validated. The WHO Covid-19 reference laboratory is currently validating commercial testing kits. The European Commission, together with the Member States, will finance accelerated clinical validation studies for rapid diagnostic tests in hospital laboratories in several Member States. The publication of results as scientific publications should shortly make it clear how rapid diagnostic tests work clinically, what are their limitations and which tests are sufficiently safe and reliable for medical or public health use. The ECDC will cooperate closely with the European Commission, with the national authorities, with the non-profit agency developing laboratory diagnosis protocol ( and the WHO, in the validation of rapid tests. The Member States will be notified as soon as the results are clear.

The Health Board has warned that there are no home testing kits available at the moment, see additional information from the Health Board website: All testing devices are medical devices. In the case of such in-vitro diagnostic devices, the seller is not obliged to inform the Health Board. If the manufacturer or the manufacturer's authorised representative were established in Estonia, they should inform the Estonian Health Board of placing the product on the market. If the manufacturer is located elsewhere outside Estonia, the distributor is obliged to make sure that the test manufacturer has complied with all the requirements. The Health Board recommends that all distributers inform the Health Board of such tests, despite the lack of an obligation. This is due to the fact of a large number of fake test kits being available.

Who will be included in the population-based study determining the virus antibodies and how will it be conducted?

On April 16, the government gave its support to conducting two seroepidemiological studies to determine the extent of the spread of the coronavirus in Estonia. A representative sample will be selected for testing in the population-based seroepidemiological study (i.e. a study that will determine the presence of virus antibodies). Participation in the planned study is voluntary. The pilot project of the seroepidemiological study will be carried out on Saaremaa and in Õismäe. The random samples of each community will be selected by the Estonian Health Insurance Board and the total number of study subjects will be 1080 people from Saaremaa and 1080 people from Õismäe. Family doctors will conduct the recruitment of volunteers and the taking of test samples for analysis. A sample of venous blood will be taken from people, to determine the presence of antibodies that show whether a person has already been exposed to the coronavirus. The study will last from May 1 to July 31. The pilot project is coordinated by the University of Tartu.

The expected goal of the testing is to establish how many people have already been exposed to the coronavirus. On the basis of the results of the study, it will be easier to decide which restrictions of the emergency situation can be eased and when.

In the framework of the COVID-19 monitoring system scientific project, a University of Tartu research team will carry out interviews and testing among a random sample covering the whole of Estonia. 2000 people will be tested weekly -- both symptomatic and asymptomatic, to evaluate the national spread of the virus in different counties and among different population groups. The COVID-19 monitoring programme is lead by the University of Tartu. The Government Commission will get weekly updates of the results of the monitoring.


Before you call your family doctor, test how probable it is that your health problem is the coronavirus. For that, a digital test has been created on the web page

If you become sick, call your family doctor!


The family doctor will assess the need for testing and give health advice. If the family doctor considers it necessary to administer the test, she will give a digital referral. The designated testing centre will then call the patient and fix the exact time and location for testing.

See the results of your test in the patient portal, digilugu


A person who has given a positive sample will definitely get a phone call. If the sample was negative, the person will find the results of the analysis in the patient portal because there is not enough capacity to call everybody. Because of the heavy load, it might take time to carry out the test and notify of the results.


Drive-in testing

How is the work of drive-in testing sites organised? Can I go there on foot, by bike, take a car or a taxi?

The patient must arrive by car to the drive-in testing site to ensure maximum safety. Taking a sample from a person in a car reduces the risk of infection for both the clinician and the previous person and the next person being tested.

Arriving by car helps to avoid the situation where someone with a suspected virus infection will be in the public space and travel by public transport where they would come into contact with other people. This is the best option to minimise the spread of the virus.

Drive to the agreed site in time, bring your document. The sample can only be given by the person who has been referred, proof of identity must be provided. You cannot just show up, only previously registered people will be tested.

People with special needs or people who do not have cars can have their coronavirus testing sample taken at home, an appointment will be made.


Getting tested?

What are the steps to getting tested?

  1. If you get sick, call your family doctor! The family doctor will evaluate whether testing is necessary and will give health advice.
  2. If the family doctor decides that testing is necessary, she will forward an electronic order to the laboratory and they will call you to agree upon the place and time of testing. Wait for the call!
  3. Drive to the agreed upon place with a car at the right time and have an ID document with you! Only a person with an electronic referral can give the nasopharyngeal sample at an agreed upon time on the basis of an ID document. Only a person with a family doctor's referral that has been sent to the laboratory is tested. There is no point in coming just in case, only people with a prior registration are tested. It is not sensible to take family members along in the same car when you come to get tested.
  4. Wait for the result, you will be called! The results will come within two working days, the person will be called. The results will also move to the portal.
  5. If your test result is positive, stay at home, follow the family doctor's prior recommendations. If your health worsens, contact your family doctor or call an ambulance from the number 112. 

What should I do if I get sick?

  • If you have gotten sick, call your family doctor! The family doctor will evaluate the need for testing and give medical advice. If testing is necessary, the family doctor will send the order to the laboratory and they will call you to fix a time and place of testing. Wait for the call!
  • Make sure that your family doctor has your phone number, otherwise the call centre cannot contact you.
  • Bring a personal identification document and drive in a car to the agreed upon location on time. On the basis of the document, you can give a nasopharyngeal sample at the testing location without exiting the car. Testing is done only with a digital referral of a family doctor and to preregistered persons. Do not bring along family members in the car when you come for testing.
  • If you cannot go to the testing location in a car, an appointment will be made over the phone for a tester to come to your home.
  • After you have given the sample, stay at home and wait for the results. The results will come within two working days. If the result was positive, you will get a phone call. The results will also be entered into the patient portal
  • If your result was positive, keep staying at home and follow the recommendations of your family doctor!
  • If your health worsens, contact your family doctor or call an ambulance by dialling 112.

More information:

Who has to decide whether a coronavirus sample is taken or not?

The necessity of taking a coronavirus sample is decided by the family doctor who has the necessary competence and specific instructions for this.

If a sick person is in a serious condition, an ambulance should be called.

Remember that you need to notify your doctor of returning from abroad and possible contacts with people infected with the coronavirus.

Can I pay and get a coronavirus test done? If not, why not? Perhaps I have already unknowingly had the virus, and I am now infectious.

Testing is justified, in particular, for people with have the symptoms of the disease and it is medically indicated. Testing of people who do not display any symptoms is not considered appropriate, as the test result reflects only the moment of testing and the negative result can create a false sense of security that does not preclude infection in the near future.

The need for testing will be determined by the family doctor who will refer the patient to give the test sample.

Family doctors have been given instructions, but the final decision is made always at the medical discretion of the family doctor. The doctor makes the decision, knowing the patients on their list, taking into account the patient’s symptoms, general health condition and co-morbidities.

The doctor will evaluate every case individually.

Random sample testing is applied for so-called front-line workers who can transmit the infection to people at risk. Focus is on health care professionals and other people providing essential services.

In addition, the Government supports the conduct of two sero-epidemiological (i.e. virus antibody detection) studies to determine the overall extent of the spread of coronavirus in Estonia.

Participation in the study is voluntary. Family doctors are involved in recruitment and testing of the volunteers. Blood is taken from the vein and the presence of antibodies is determined in order to show whether or not people have contracted coronavirus. With the testing it is hoped to get information about how many people actually have contracted the coronavirus.

The results of the study will help to assess when and how the emergency restrictions can be eased.

An employer is demanding that the employee have the corona virus test done, the family doctor does not want to do this. The company where the employee is returning to has hundreds of workers. What should he do?

The employer cannot demand a test. The employer must evaluate whether they can provide for teleworking.

Do the treating physician and the infectious disease clinic decide on the necessity of administering a COVID-19 test if the person has been transferred to the infectious disease hospital and diagnosed with an RS virus but also has COVID-19 symptoms?


Should the employees be tested for COVID-19 before resuming work?

COVID-19 or the coronavirus disease is an acute respiratory infection which, as far as we know, does not turn into a chronic condition. Therefore, it is not appropriate to test the employee for the coronavirus before starting work or during the health check for the employee, employer or entrepreneur (see § 13 of the Act on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases), as employees are not tested for any other acute respiratory diseases (e.g. influenza, adenovirus or RS-virus).

In the case of acute respiratory infection, the principle applies that a person who is sick does not go to work until they have recovered from the disease. If anybody among the staff has contracted the coronavirus, the Health Board will identify people who have been exposed to the disease and, if necessary, advise them to stay away from work during the incubation period of the infection.

The following principles must be observed

  • The doctor decides if the patient has recovered;
  • The doctor takes into account the best evidence-based information available when making the decision;
  • the employer has no right to decide on the recovery of the employee or any conditions attached to the recovery of the employee;
  • the employer has the right to know whether the doctor has made the decision regarding recovery;
  • if the doctor has decided that the patient has recovered, then not allowing the person to return to work is not justified and is unlawful.


How quickly can I have the results of the virus test?

How long does it take for the Health Board to receive the results of a coronavirus test after testing? Will the person tested get the information over the telephone only if the test came back positive or regardless of the result?

Persons who have tested positive will definitely receive a phone call. Testing and providing information on test results takes time due to excessive workload, but usually the results come in within 2 days.

When the person tests negative, the test results will be entered to the digital Patient Portal, and not everybody will receive a phone call. You can access website using your ID-card or Mobile-ID.

How quickly do the results of the virus test reach the patient portal? There are claims that on occasions there is no information today for a test done on Friday but the results of a test done on Sunday are there.

The information on the result of the test will be sent to the family doctor who will enter in into the patient portal. Persons whose test results were positive will be notified personally by phone.

Meaning of the results of the virus test

What do the positive and negative coronavirus tests mean?

If you have been tested for Sars-CoV-2 and the test result is positive, it is certain that you have contracted the disease COVID-19.

If the test result is negative, monitor your health for 14 days or until symptoms subside. A negative result might not always mean that you have not contracted SARS-CoV-2 - you may still be in the incubation period, in which case the test does not show a positive result. 

Does a negative COVID-19 test result invalidate the requirement for a 14-day isolation?

No, it does not.


Last updated: 22 May 2020