News Coronavirus Qld refuses to ease PCR test rules for travellers
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Qld refuses to ease PCR test rules for travellers

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A queue for virus testing in Melbourne's north on Wednesday morning. Photo: AAP
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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has refused to budge on pre-Christmas requirements for hotspot travellers to present negative PCR tests to enter the state.

But she has flagged a major change might be only weeks away.

COVID testing queues across the country have surged to record levels this week, with 151,443 tests in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday in NSW and a record 24-hour number of 92,262 in Victoria.

There have been lengthy queues at testing centres in both states, with some people waiting up to eight hours for a test, and others being turned away.

Testing numbers have leapt this week as COVID cases have spiralled in Victoria and NSW. There were a record 3763 infections in NSW on Wednesday, while Victoria had another 1503.

But much of the demand is reportedly driven by what NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has dubbed “tourism testing” – people complying with interstate requirements ahead of travelling for Christmas. Mr Hazzard said spike was straining the state’s resources.

In Victoria, COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said more than a quarter of tests were being conducted for people who needed a negative result to travel interstate. He said the system was jammed because of a “bureaucratic reason”.

“It is not a highly productive way to use a PCR testing system,” he said on Wednesday.

“The additional queues and waiting times that we’re seeing at the moment are a byproduct of that. We hope to move to a more sensible arrangement in the very near future.”

Numerous Melbourne testing centres were again at capacity within minutes of opening on Wednesday.

Queensland, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and South Australia require visitors from interstate hotspots to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of entering the state.

But Ms Palaszczuk said only 10 per cent of those in NSW getting PCR tests in recent days were people bound for Queensland for the holidays. She said she had spoken to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet about the testing situation there.

“Omicron is rampant in NSW,” she said.

“I don’t want rapid spread here in Queensland. I want Queenslanders to have a good and safe new year. I have a lot of elderly population who don’t have boosters yet. I want them to get their booster shots.

“We have had 257,000 people crossing the border from Victoria, ACT and NSW since Monday. Everyone wants to come to Queensland, but we want to make sure that it is safe,” she said.

However, Ms Palaszczuk flagged the possibility of allowing rapid antigen tests for travellers.

“We are happy to get some further advice,” she said.

“We will look at whether this is approved, that we may be to legalise them in the new year from 1 January,” she said.

“But between now and the new year, we will require those PCR tests for people coming into the state.

“It was part of our plan and we want to keep the virus out as much as we possibly can over the Christmas and new year.”

Queensland had a record 186 COVID cases on Wednesday, and has tightened mask rules to cover workers and patrons at theatres and cinemas and hospitality workers. Masks were already mandated in supermarkets and shops as well as public transport and rideshares.

Chief health officer John Gerrard said the virus was becoming widespread and Queensland Health would not be able to investigate every case.

“We’ve had locations across the state; Cairns, Townsville, Central Queensland, Wide Bay, Sunshine Coast, Darling Downs, West Morton, Ipswich, Brisbane north and south and the Gold Coast, so it’s everywhere,” he said.

“We know that we’re not picking up every case, we know that.

“That number of 186 is an underestimate of the real number of people in Queensland who are already carrying this virus.”

On Tuesday, South Australia dumped requirements for interstate travellers to be tested on arrival after a blowout in wait times at testing centres.

Premier Steven Marshall said people travelling to SA from NSW, Victoria and the ACT would still have to have a negative test within 72 hours of departure.

The change came after a surge in daily testing numbers in SA that topped 20,000 for the first time on Sunday.

“Our focus now is making sure South Australians have access to a rapid PCR test,” Mr Marshall said on Tuesday.