COVID-19: guidance for sampling and for diagnostic laboratories

Information for clinical diagnostic laboratories regarding safety, sampling and packaging specimens associated with COVID-19.


COVID-19: which samples should be taken (poster)

COVID-19: packaging requirements for samples

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COVID-19: sampling and packaging poster

COVID-19: Specimen Result Contact Form


These documents provide guidance to clinical diagnostic laboratories on the handling and processing of specimens for the diagnosis of COVID-19, and covers safety, laboratory investigations as well as sample requirements.

There may be further information specific to each country in the United Kingdom, as this guidance was written by Public Health England (PHE) primarily for an English health professional audience. To see if country specific information is available, please refer to Health Protection Scotland, Public Health Wales, or Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

Published 15 January 2020
Last updated 16 July 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated section 2 and 3 of 'laboratory investigations and sample requirements for diagnosis'.

  2. Updated section 3 of 'laboratory investigations and sample requirements for diagnosis'.

  3. Updated link to video on packaging diagnostic samples containing Hazard group 3 (HG3) pathogens. Addition of link to reinstated E28 primary testing form.

  4. Updated 'COVID-19: sampling and packaging poster'.

  5. Update on sample submission to 'laboratory investigations and sample requirements for diagnosis' page.

  6. Updated 'COVID-19: safe handling and processing for samples in laboratories'.

  7. Note on urine testing added to the 'safe handling and processing for samples' page.

  8. Updated with latest information on the infectivity of human specimens with SARS-CoV-2 virus (section 2) with key references.

  9. Added clarification that this guidance refers to how hospital-based healthcare workers can arrange laboratory testing for patients and inclusion of a link to essential workers testing guidance.

  10. New version of the diagnostic sample video added.

  11. Updated upper respiratory tract sample options; added 'guidance on alternative swab types and transport media'; replaced posters for samples to take and packaging instructions.

  12. Updated information on local testing.

  13. Updated information on how to arrange local laboratory testing.

  14. Additional guidance on processing samples regarding near patient testing.

  15. Updated information on samples and testing.

  16. 'Priority for testing' moved to 'investigation and initial clinical management of possible cases'.

  17. Added links to 'Packaging and transport requirements for patient samples – UN3373'.

  18. Added 'Packaging requirements for COVID-19 samples', and updated the sample packaging poster.

  19. Clarification on work to be conducted at CL3.

  20. Added Priority of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) testing during periods of significant demand.

  21. Updated guidance 'COVID-19: safe handling and processing for samples in laboratories'.

  22. Added reference to MERS testing in the laboratory investigation page, and updated the 'how to arrange testing' page.

  23. Update to list of laboratories in the 'how to arrange laboratory testing' document.

  24. Updated list of laboratories in the 'how to arrange laboratory testing' document.

  25. Update to designated laboratories.

  26. Revisions to safe handling and processing for laboratories, and added video describing sample packaging.

  27. Updated guidance for laboratory investigations and sample requirements.

  28. Update to guidance on how to arrange testing.

  29. Updated information on packaging and transport of samples.

  30. Updated posters and text editions.

  31. Updated information on process for sending samples to PHE.

  32. Clarification to 'who to call to request testing'.

  33. Added clarification of sampling and packaging, with new and revised posters.

  34. Added information about biosafety levels.

  35. Update to risk assessment and point of care tests.

  36. Added laboratory specimen and packing requirements and poster.

  37. Added who to call to request laboratory testing document.

  38. Added 'Laboratory investigations and sample requirements' document and algorithm.

  39. First published.