Interstate travellers in Queensland are waiting up to seven hours to take the ‘day 5’ PCR tests necessary to board their return flights.
It comes as both industry leaders and the NSW Health Minister urge the Sunshine State to switch its policy to allow tourists to instead use over-the-counter rapid antigen tests.
The Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland are all asking passengers from ‘high risk’ areas to test negative via a PCR test three days before departure, with the latter also requiring a negative result on the fifth day after arrival.
However, a huge increase in COVID cases nationwide combined with Australians travelling interstate for the holidays, has led to a blowout in waiting times for both undertaking the procedure and receiving a result.
On Christmas Eve, 80 flights alone were cancelled at Sydney Airport, caused by staff at airlines having to isolate.
Defence Connect editor Liam Garman, who visited Brisbane at Christmas, has been turned away from multiple testing sites and told he faces a wait of around seven hours. He took the above picture of a queue that formed at just 6am on Tuesday morning.
Queensland’s rules have also affected neighbouring NSW, which has seen nearly 700,000 PCR tests taken since Christmas Eve. NSW’s Health Minister yesterday said the decision not to relax the rules to switch to rapid antigen tests was “stupid”.
“Waits on the pathology system that Queensland is forcing on NSW is perverting the whole purpose of getting sound, prompt, clinical results for people who may be positive and should be in isolation,” he told The Australian.
“I think it’s raw politics. I think Premier Palaszczuk made a statement that she’s now not prepared to back off and I would say to her that we’ve all had to take forward and backward steps in Covid and that’s something which the community understands.
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“But intransigence is not something that the community understands.”
His comments follow similar calls in the last few days for a relaxation in the rules from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group and the Council of Small Business Australia.
In Victoria, residents have also reported wait times of up to five days to receive negative results, with a poll in The Age showing just 43 per cent of 1500 respondents had theirs back in less than 24 hours.
Last week, Australian Aviation first reported how the Queensland government was refusing to drop its testing mandate, or quickly switch to lateral flow tests that can be administered at home.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on states to drop their requirements to free up resources for symptomatic people and close contacts.
“We’ve all seen the terrible queues and the long waits people have had,” Morrison said after last 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 a “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, but no changes have been agreed. SA has though since dropped its mandate altogether.
“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.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has argued in response that only 10 per cent of tests performed around the country are for interstate travel purposes.
Palaszczuk has however suggested 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.
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