NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet is urging Queensland to change its border entry requirements as travellers seeking COVID-19 tests clog up the already overwhelmed system in NSW.
The state reported another 6062 infections on Tuesday, down 172 on the day before, but the number of tests processed also dropped.
Just over 93,500 test results were returned, compared to 164,000 last Thursday.
Thousands of people across NSW are queuing for hours to be swabbed, with some clinics turning people away shortly after opening for the day.
Wait times for results are even longer, with the usual 24-hour turnaround blowing out to five days in some cases.
The premier said “tourism testing” is partially to blame.
People travelling to Queensland are required to have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arriving, which Mr Perrottet said is putting incredible pressure on the system.
“There are people getting tests who don’t have any symptoms, are not feeling unwell … and are taking the place of people who are unwell or who are required to get a test by NSW Health,” he said.
Mr Perrottet is having constructive conversations with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk about changing the rule immediately and instead accepting rapid antigen test (RAT) results, he said.
However, the test kits are in short supply in NSW, with residents reporting they are near impossible to buy.
Mr Perrottet said NSW has ordered 20 million RAT tests which will be distributed for free, but they won’t be available until late January.
He also pleaded for only those who are unwell or contacted by NSW Health to present for testing, to help alleviate pressure on testing clinics, many of which have reduced operating hours over the festive period.
“Please only get a PCR test if you are required to do so,” he said.
“We are still seeing many people in those queues who do not need to be there.”
He also confirmed NSW Health is working with hospitals to adjust PCR testing requirements for women preparing to give birth.
“No one who is pregnant should be sitting in long queues,” Mr Perrottet said.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard earlier accused Queensland of perverting the purposes of pathology testing
Wait times are now so long the results are no longer even relevant, Mr Hazzard told reporters on Tuesday.
“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.
“It makes no sense at all.”
One traveller who spoke to AAP said some people hoping to travel north may even struggle to get swabbed in the first place.
She arrived at a Port Macquarie testing clinic before it even opened, and queued for more than 90 minutes before being turned away when staff spotted her Queensland licence plates.
The woman said she had to leave the queue and return in her mother’s car to secure a test.
While Ms Palaszczuk denies her state’s requirements are contributing significantly to NSW’s testing woes, she has hinted they may be scrapped on January 1.
Adding to the confusion, a Sydney pathology laboratory run by St Vincent’s Hospital admitted on Monday about 950 people were told they had tested negative before their results were even returned.
About half — 486 — have since been confirmed positive.
On the previous day, the same company confirmed more than 400 people who initially tested negative were notified on Boxing Day they were positive.
SydPath put the incidents down to human error amid unprecedented pressure, and urged people being tested for travel to go elsewhere.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19 will be able to leave isolation and return to work faster under new guidelines announced Monday.
The change comes after 2000 NSW healthcare workers were furloughed, and the number of people in hospital doubled over the past week.
A total of 557 people are in hospital, with 60 in intensive care.
The state also reported one death on Tuesday.