The reasons you might want (or need) to get tested for COVID-19 aren't really that important. You might need it to travel to places like Beijing, you might need it to be able to return to your work place, you might eventually need results for visas when borders open up or you might just need the certainty to help you sleep at night.

Abandon all hope of certainty and comfort. We're still in the pre-patch version of the simulation, friends.

There are plenty of places to get tested, many of them lying pretty far in the outskirts, though some are downtown(ish): United Family does nucleic acid testing for 450rmb, Mon-Fri from 9.30m-4.20pm. We picked around the corner from them because they also do antibody testing (plus it's a little cheaper).

Bring your passport. And a way to pay: cash, Alipay, WeChat. That's it.

The Process

COVID-19 testing is conducted outdoors in temporary container offices by Tongren Hospital's West Gate, on Linquan Lu. Follow the queues. Not a lot of social distancing happening, but at least everyone seemed to be wearing masks. Good news is that it took less than an hour to get both tests at 2pm on a weekday. Morning lines are even shorter. It did not require an appointment.

First up, grab a registration slip from the gatehouse and fill it in: name, address, phone number. Then line up to hand it in (queue number 1). Once you get to the front, you register and let them know which tests you want.

Which Test Do I Get?

If you want more information on both tests, you can check the American Institute of Microbiology's COVID-19 FAQ. If you're lucky, you'll get a nurse who speaks English like I did. If not...

- Nucleic acid test (hesuan ceshi, 核酸测试): this is the most common and commonly asked-for test, involving swabbing the inside of the throat and/or nose and testing for the actual virus.

- Antibody test (kangti ceshi, 抗体测试): this is a blood test, which checks for COVID-19 antibodies. The antibodies probably take one or two weeks to develop, so they're not a good way to check if you're currently sick but they might tell you if you were exposed to COVID-19 in the past.

Both tests came to 340rmb, total. You'll be given receipts and then it's time to line up to pay (queue number 2). The line goes past where they test dayworkers in the hospital before they're allowed into the hospital, so you get a preview of what you're in for.

Once you've paid, you go to the containers on the right inside the gate, where you line up to get the actual test done (queue number 3) aka getting stabbed in the brain.

Getting Stabbed in the Brain

I was the only one getting an antibody test, so there was no queue. It took a couple of seconds: a quick jab in the arm and a tiny bit of blood is drawn.

Most people are here for the nucleic acid test, the one that involves getting your nasal cavity excavated with a long q-tip.

Scraping out grey matter to put in canopic jars. Looking for the reset button somewhere behind your eye socket. Watching from the line, it seemed like they're plumbing the depths of your skull to see if there's gold in them there hills.

Watch it in stop motion!

It wasn't that bad. They do one on the inside of the cheek and one inside the nose. The fully enclosed nurse was quick and very efficient; she (?) probably did about fifty of these in just the hour I was there. You might tear up a little bit at worst.

Last step is to hand your nucleic acid swabs to the window around the side of the testing room, and you're done!

Getting The Results

The results are ready in about 24 hours. Return the next day with your receipt and get your results back. There is a QR code you can scan to get the results via their official WeChat (id: 上海市同仁医院), but registering requires a shenfenzheng (身份证). Here's hoping you come up negative (-), like I did.

If I didn't, I probably wouldn't have had to go back to find out. I'm guessing people in suits would have come to let me know.


Tongren Hospital is located at 1111 Xianxia Lu, near Beihong Lu / 仙霞路1111号, 近北虹路. COVID testing takes place Mon-Sat, 8-11am & 1-4pm.


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