It’s 6am at Rose Bay and already the cars are sneaking past Catalina’s Restaurant. It will be another two hours before the swabs are unleashed, and by that time the queue will be on the esplanade as far back as The Pier, perhaps half a mile away.
This isn’t our first experience of Australia’s ridiculous and chaotic regime of testing to travel. Yesterday, we waited two hours at Kincumber Laverty Pathology Drive-through Clinic on the Central Coast.
In the end, with perhaps 200 cars filling three side roads, the Highway Patrol arrived to close down the queue. The testing station simply couldn’t cope.
Most of those miserably sitting in their cars for hour after hour didn’t really have to be there. But thanks to the Queensland Government’s insistence on a COVID test before crossing its borders and Australia’s demand that any foreign tourist take a PCR test seven days after arrival, here we are nonetheless.
Perhaps, after reading the comments of angry customers on their website, we shouldn’t have bothered. Apparently, the clinic is sending samples back to Sydney to join the huge backlog of swabs from everywhere else in the state, so results can take 5-7 days.
One of those who had been in the queue before us posted on social media: “I had 4 COVID tests with these guys last week, they are sending all samples back to Sydney for testing, you will wait at least 48 hours for a result from here. When I realised they were sending the tests away, I went to Gosford hospital and had a second test there as I needed results asap for travel requirement. Received Gosford result same day after a couple of hours, waited more than 48 hours for the Laverty test result.
“Absolutely ridiculous in an outbreak and no reason to be shipping samples back to sydney for analysis. Should be using local resources to minimise the strain on the system.”
We were waiting in line because our son had joined us for Christmas from Singapore. The government’s request for testing seven days after arrival meant we were forced to join the mayhem even though we had already taken daily antigen tests. You get the results in 15 minutes, so we knew he was negative – but had to help clog up the system and cause delays to really needy medical cases just the same.
It’s part of the chaos caused by making individual states take responsibility for policy and medical decisions. And it’s why the federal government is so wrong to try and dodge directing this vital area of learning to live with a pandemic.
With tourism ministers and business leaders at both national and local level begging Australians and some overseas nations to help our struggling visitor economy by getting out and spending up big, it’s a strange mixed message to find yourself looking up the tail pipe of a Toyota for two hours as part of the price for a public benefit.
It may be the view from the car park in Rose Bay where I am writing this, but it is no surprise at all that the woefully under-resourced NSW testing system is overwhelmed and almost 1,000 people in Sydney got the wrong results.
It will be two years come March since the pandemic really struck. And it seems we have learned very little.
As we listen to the news and start our engines in Rose Bay, there are more reports of long delays expected at testing sites across Sydney. At least we know we are not alone.
In the end, it took four hours for the test. As we left, the queue had reached almost to Rose Bay police station.
And the result? Well, when we receive that is anyone’s guess.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has accused the Queensland Premier Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of “effectively perverting the purposes of pathology testing” by her demands of PCR tests rather than over-the-counter rapid antigen tests. And there is hope that this may change shortly.
Meanwhile, pharmacies and supermarkets are short on supplies after an entirely predictable explosion in demand for rapid antigen tests ahead of Christmas,
We know it’s not easy. America’s holiday air services are paralysed thanks to Omicron causing staff sickness, and Europe is struggling to sort out its position on regulation as hundreds of thousands of new cases are reported every day.
But our own position looks particularly messy. And it requires decisive action at the federal level.
These poor, overworked health staff should be supported by the army. And the chaotic regulations – a patchwork quilt of chaotic health advice compounded by politics – should be streamlined across the states.
The holidays are never a good time for our Prime Minister. We all remember the Bush Fires, so we know he doesn’t hold a hose.
But with an election in the offing, it’s time for some help for those trying to balance helping our businesses over the holidays with not overburdening vital health services. It’s time for some direction from the top.