(Australian Associated Press)
States are being urged to use rapid antigen tests to screen cross border travellers amid continued congestion at COVID-19 clinics, as Queensland announces it will scrap a day five testing requirement.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced the change to the day five tests on Tuesday, telling tourists in line at testing centres across the state they could immediately walk away.
Of the tens of thousands of travellers who have crossed the Queensland border, only 0.6 per cent have recorded a positive test in the day five test, Ms D’Ath said.
The about-face on day five tests came after the NSW health minister accused Queensland of “effectively perverting the purposes of pathology testing” as travellers clog up the already overwhelmed system.
Wait times in NSW have now blown out to the point that test results are no longer relevant, Brad Hazzard said.
“They might have been negative on day one when they had their test, but they could well be positive on day four or day five when they cross the border,” he said.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said Queensland had taken the wrong approach and pressured the state’s premier to accept rapid antigen tests.
“NSW and Victoria are finding it very difficult at the moment because of the pressure on the testing system and a significant proportion of that are tourism tests,” he said.
The ACT had to reopen a fourth testing centre early to meet demand after three testing centres hit their initial capacity on Tuesday morning.
ACT policing were called to a number of incidents as frustrations boiled over in testing queues.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says anecdotal evidence from testing teams suggests around half of the swabs are for travel purposes.
One would be traveller told AAP she was turned away from a Port Macquarie testing clinic despite arriving before it opened and queuing for an hour and a half when staff saw her Queensland number plates.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg backed the use of rapid antigen tests for interstate travel to help ease queues and pressure at testing clinics.
“That’s a sensible balance recognising that people want some level of surety about their health status before they travel,” Mr Frydenberg told the ABC on Tuesday.
“But at the same time they want to avoid the long queues and long waiting times coming with the PCR tests.”
Mr Frydenberg said the government was “looking at its options” with regards to offering free rapid antigen tests, something NSW will move to do from next year.
Testing blunders have added to the Christmas chaos after St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney revealed it had told 950 people they were COVID-19 negative when their results hadn’t been returned yet.
The hospital’s pathology department confirmed on Tuesday that 486 – more than half – of those who were initially told they were negative had in fact tested positive.
This is on top of the more than 400 people who initially received a negative result on Christmas Day only to be notified on Boxing Day they had actually tested positive.
On Tuesday NSW recorded 6062 infections, down 172 on the day before. The state also reported one death.
Victoria saw a sharp uptick in COVID-19 infections, with 2738 cases and four deaths reported.
Queensland case numbers also surged past 1000 for the first time, with 1158 reported, while South Australia hit a new daily record of 995 infections.
There were 252 cases in the ACT, 43 in Tasmania, 16 in the Northern Territory and zero in Western Australia.