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.
“It is taking up to four days, sometimes five days to get test results,” he 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.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said Queensland had taken the wrong approach and needed to move 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 during the holidays to meet demand after three testing centres hit their initial capacity early Tuesday morning.
It comes as people are struggling to even get swabbed – let alone receive results – ahead of travel.
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.
“Using that rapid antigen test ahead of interstate travel is a better approach than the more expensive and time consuming PCR test,” Mr Frydenberg told the ABC on Tuesday.
“I think that’s a sensible balance recognising that people want some level of surety about their health status before they travel. But at the same time they want to avoid the long queues and long waiting times coming with the PCR tests.”
Asked if the federal government would consider supplying free tests, as is happening in the UK, US and in NSW from next year, Mr Frydenberg said “we are looking at our options and also understand the states are as well”.
Testing blunders have added to the Christmas mayhem after one Sydney pathology service initially told almost 900 positive cases they were negative.
St Vincent’s Hospital 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 Tasmania registered 43 new infections.