Australians have as little as one day left to get tested for Covid if they want a negative result before Christmas Day as demand for a swab soars across the country.
Clinics have been hit with hours-long queues in recent days amid a surge in cases and a frantic rush to meet interstate testing requirements.
Those wanting to see their family on Christmas Day but cautious about spreading the virus to their vulnerable loved ones have also been caught in the chaos as they too join the queue for a test.
In South Australia – which as of Tuesday morning was only open to millions of fully-vaccinated residents from Victoria and NSW if they got tested on arrival – the wait for a test overnight was as long as nine hours.
Cars snaked through Victoria Park in central Adelaide, with one motorist saying he waited from 10.30pm Monday until about 8am Tuesday to reach the front of the line.
Pictured is a queue at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Covid-19 testing centre in Sydney on Tuesday. The processing times to turn around samples has ballooned to as much as 48 hours in NSW
SA Premier Steven Marshall hours later ditched testing on arrival rules for interstate travellers, as long as they don’t have symptoms, after the long lines sparked outrage.
However visitors from NSW, Victoria and the ACT still need a negative test within 72 hours of arriving into SA.
Over in Melbourne, a line for a Covid-19 walk-in testing centre could be seen stretching around the block in Chinatown on Tuesday.
The processing times to turn around samples has also ballooned, with one Sydneysider telling Daily Mail Australia she is still waiting for her result 48 hours after her test.
Those wanting a negative result by Christmas Day in NSW would therefore need to get tested by Wednesday at the very latest to turn around their sample in time.
The lengthy processing times could spell disaster for those in virus-hit NSW, Victoria and the ACT who need a negative result within 72 hours of travelling to interstate destinations such as Queensland and SA.
Deakin University Chair in Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett told Daily Mail Australia states needed to shift away from requiring interstate travellers to test before departure.
Cars snaked through Victoria Park in central Adelaide, with motorists reporting wait times of anywhere between six and nine hours
A queue at Sydney’s RPA Hospital for Covid testing. Many of those in a queue across Australia want to see their loved ones on Christmas Day but are cautious about spreading the virus to those must vulnerable
‘The issue we have is the longer the wait times are, the less immediate the result,’ she said.
‘Unless you then isolate until Christmas Day, the test would only tell you what you have today – not in three days time.’
Professor Bennett urged those eager to know if they have Covid before seeing a vulnerable relative to combine their PCR test with multiple rapid antigen tests in the days before December 25.
She said the long queues of Covid-free Australians waiting for a test were taking away capacity for those who were sick and may actually have the virus.
Masked Sydneysider sit on a ledge outside the RPA Covid-19 testing centre on Tuesday. The lengthy processing times could spell disaster for those in virus-hit NSW, Victoria and the ACT who need a negative result within 72 hours of travelling interstate
‘It’s overloading our testing system – we have to find other ways to manage the borders,’ she said.
Professor Bennett said she expected state and federal leaders to discuss winding back testing requirements at an emergency national cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
One woman waiting for a test in the Victorian capital earlier admitted she had left it late to get swabbed, given she needed to fly interstate with a negative test the next day.
‘I waited for two and a half hours yesterday so thought I’d come her early today to try and get in this time,’ she told 10 News Melbourne.
Motorists queue inside their cars at the St Vincent’s Bondi Covid-19 testing centre on Tuesday
‘I’m about to see my family tomorrow interstate so I had to get tested within 72 hours – I really need that negative test.’
Meanwhile, pharmacies and shops are running out of rapid antigen tests as residents race to prove they are Covid-free without the hassle of an official PCR test.
National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Trent Twomey says there are sufficient supplies in Australia but they need to be distributed to where demand is greatest.
‘They are all at their major distribution hubs which are down in Victoria,’ he told the Nine Network on Tuesday.
Pharmacies would get more deliveries by Wednesday.
‘They assure us over the next 24 hours there will be trucks and ships and trains and all sorts of things getting that stock out of major distribution hubs in Melbourne out to the rest of the states and territories,’ he said.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant is urging caution this Christmas and recommended people take a rapid antigen test before going to an indoor gathering.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant is urging caution this Christmas and recommended people take a rapid antigen test before going to an indoor gathering
‘Choose outdoor, well-ventilated places for gatherings and limit the size of those gatherings,’ she said.
Victorian health authorities offered similar advice, recommending outdoor Christmas celebrations and limiting indoor gatherings to less than four hours.
‘Have Christmas on the verandah or reduce your time inside a house with others to less than four hours,’ a Victoria Department of Health statement read.
‘You may still have to get tested but your time in isolation will be shorter.’
The testing chaos comes as NSW’s Covid-19 cases again exploded on Tuesday with 3,057 new infections, the state’s highest spike in daily infections since the pandemic began.
A queue at the RPA Covid-19 testing centre on Tuesday. NSW’s Covid-19 cases again exploded on Tuesday with 3,057 new infections, the state’s highest spike in daily infections since the pandemic began
Two deaths were also recorded as NSW recorded a spike of more than 500 cases recorded 24 hours earlier.
Hospitalisations are also on the rise with 284 cases admitted, including 39 in intensive care.
Victoria recorded 1245 cases and six deaths on Tuesday, slightly down from 1,302 infections reported on Monday.
Around 392 cases are being treated in hospital, including 73 in intensive care.
NSW remains agonising close to the 95 per cent vaccination milestone with 94.9 per cent of over-16s having had one dose and 93.4 per cent now double-vaxxed.
Almost 137,000 residents came forward for testing on Monday, placing overwhelming demand on testing clinics with some sites running out of swabs.