ACT’s long COVID test times make for a nervous Christmas | The Canberra Times


At this time of the year Canberrans would normally be wrapping presents, tackling supermarket lines and preparing the Christmas lunch, instead many are finding themselves waiting for hours in a line. A person who has COVID symptoms or has just found out they are a close or casual contact faces a potentially long and nervous wait. First they need to join one of the long queues at one of Canberra’s testing sites and wait hours for their test. Then they will have to isolate until they receive a negative test result. That result could take six hours or it could take 48 hours to come back, but regardless the casual contact will have to anxiously wait as they hope for a result to come before Christmas Day. Similar stories are happening across the country as governments seem ill-prepared for what was ultimately inevitable. Negative test requirements have created the perfect storm amid a surge in cases, as more people move around and interstate. In the ACT, there are a number of factors for the long waits. Firstly, the closure of Canberra’s largest testing site at Exhibition Park in the weeks leading up to Christmas was poorly timed. Health authorities did face a difficult situation as EPIC needed to be cleared to make way for large events, including Summernats, but surely it was obvious testing demand was going to surge in the week leading up to Christmas. If this was not foreshadowed then you have to question the whole process. But since it appears it was absolutely essential for EPIC to close, then authorities needed to ensure the same capacity was available over Christmas. While large sites that can be made available like EPIC are few and far between the ACT government does have the option to open several smaller sites which could have made up for this. Health authorities did a great job of opening additional testing sites over the first days of Canberra’s lockdown. Most of these sites were at locked down schools – this could have happened again as its now school holidays. However, it should also be acknowledged many health workers have taken a rightly deserved break over Christmas and this is beyond anybody’s control. Nobody can criticise our hardworking frontline workers for taking time to recover and spend with their loved ones. MORE COVID-19 NEWS: There’s also the fact that one of the main reasons for the surge in demand for tests is entirely out of the ACT’s control. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said about 50 per cent of all people coming forward for tests are interstate travellers. That is an incredible drain on resources. It also means close contacts and symptomatic people – the most crucial results – are waiting days to receive their results. It also greatly diminishes the ACT’s COVID response as it takes longer to pick up positive cases and to break chains of transmission. While the decisions of other states are entirely out of the ACT’s control, in a small jurisdiction like Canberra there are practical measures that can be done, including opening surge test capacity. Having specially dedicated testing sites for travellers and close contacts is another measure which seems sensible. It’s a very terrible situation for people who have suffered through lockdown this year and were seeking a bright light at the end of the year, but are instead facing a Christmas staring at their phone hoping for a negative test result. Our coverage of the health and safety aspects of this outbreak of COVID-19 in the ACT is free for anyone to access. However, we depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support. You can also sign up for our newsletters for regular updates. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:



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