The Queensland government has confirmed it has no intention of dropping its requirement for a negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours ahead of travel to the Sunshine State, despite numerous calls to do so.
Currently, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory are requiring travellers from COVID hotspots to present a negative COVID-19 test within the 72 hours prior to arriving in the state.
However, this requirement has seen drive-through COVID testing clinics around the nation inundated, with queue times blowing out to over four hours.
In response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called on Queensland and the other states to drop their testing requirements and free up testing resources for symptomatic people and close contacts of confirmed COVID cases.
“We’ve all seen the terrible queues and the long waits people have had,” Morrison said after Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting.
“Some 20 to 25 per cent of those people waiting are not symptomatic, they’re not a close or casual contact. They just want to travel to another state.
“This is putting unnecessary pressure on the system.”
Morrison said there was “very good discussion” at national cabinet about testing requirements for interstate travel, including the possible switch to accepting rapid antigen testing (RAT) instead of PCR tests, however no changes have been agreed.
“There was a positive discussion, and the medical expert panel will give further advice on whether testing is required at all for travel, or if we can move to the more simple measure of RAT which will reduce those queues,” he said.
However, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said that her state won’t drop its testing requirements for new arrivals into Queensland and argued that only 10 per cent of tests performed around the country are for interstate travel purposes.
However, Palaszczuk did say that her government might look to accept rapid antigen testing as an alternative, should it be accepted by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), although not until the new year.
“We are happy to get some further advice from AHPPC about rapid antigen tests. If this is approved, we may legalise them in the new year from 1 January but between now and the new year, we will require those PCR test for people coming into our state,” she said.
Meanwhile, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged Queensland and the other states to reconsider and said “tourism testing” was straining lab capacity.
“Tourism tests are getting in the way of actually looking after patients and clinical outcomes,” he said.
In Victoria, COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar claimed that more than a quarter of all PCR tests being conducted were for the purposes of interstate travel, and said the system was becoming clogged up over a “bureaucratic reason”.
“It is not a highly productive way to use a PCR testing system,” he said.
“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.”