NSW’s Health Minister has warned that by the time a test result comes back a person might have gone on to contract Covid, as wait times continue to place pressure on the state’s pathology system.
More than 109,000 tests were carried out on Christmas Day, but Brad Hazzard on Sunday urged only those with symptoms and those needing to travel interstate to line up at state testing hubs.
“We’re now getting something in the order of 130,000 to 160,000 tests a day,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We need to consider why are people being tested and why are we putting the stressors on our pathology system.
“The other aspect is we know that if you have a PCR test on day one and not getting results until three or four days, it may well be that you have developed a positive viral response anyway and you wouldn’t know it.”
Mr Hazzard said people were getting tested to see if it was safe to visit a relative – but it was not an effective screening method.
“I have heard also people saying, ‘I‘m getting it because I’m visiting Aunty Mabel in three or four days’, well, if you have a test today, and then you’re visiting Aunty Mabel in three or four days, it may well be by then you’re positive,” he warned.
“A far simpler, far quicker measure would simply to be to get a rapid antigen test the day you’re going to see Aunty Mabel and preferably about an hour or half an hour beforehand, go and get a rapid antigen test, check you’re OK and then your results are there.”
The demand on testing sites is also partly being driven by other states and territories requiring travellers from high-risk areas to show a negative PCR test to cross borders, or by those who have been directed to by health authorities.
NSW is now pushing for people to prioritise rapid antigen tests if they don’t have symptoms, are not a close contact or don’t need to travel interstate.
Mr Hazzard said the need for people to get a PCR test to travel interstate was placing unnecessary pressure on the system and said he would urge other leaders to reconsider the rule.
“I certainly send again the message to those states that getting PCR tests is putting an enormous pressure on our pathology system and minimising the capacity for proper clinical PCR tests.
“I certainly would be saying to those state governments, please, rethink that.”
But Queensland, which requires NSW people to get a test and prove they’re negative within 72 hours before arriving in the state, hit back on Sunday.
Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick said NSW had let the virus get out of control.
The majority, the overwhelming majority of people who are being tested in NSW are being tested because they are concerned about being infected with the virus in their home state,” he said.
“And that’s not surprising. This is a state that led the virus get out of control.
“People of NSW are naturally very concerned when they hear they might be a close contact and are going to get tested.
“So the pressure on the testing system in NSW and other states isn’t because of people wanting to travel to Queensland, this is also the same testing regime for other states like South Australia and Western Australia.”
It’s expected there will continue to be significant pressure on NSW’s testing centres in the lead up to New Year’s Eve.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he believed it was “less safe” for people to be waiting in longer queues as the turnaround time for tests was longer, leading to more people in the community potentially with Covid.
He said the state was working to make rapid antigen tests easier to access.
“Over the next few months this will become more crucial, that this will become the new normal personal responsibility in living with Covid,” he said
“Have these rapid antigen tests at home and as we move through 2022, we believe this will become the new norm.
“The key message is if you don‘t need a test, please don’t sit in those queues. That is taking place of somebody who is unwell, who needs a test, who is required by NSW Health or required to by the premiers of the other states for interstate travel.”