People who test positive for Covid using rapid antigen testing are turned away from or give up on getting a PCR test, as the New South Wales Government warns that the actual number of Covid cases may be much higher than those 11,201 reported Wednesday. .
Waiting times for test clinics have increased across NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
Guardian Australia has spoken to people who have developed Covid symptoms after being in contact with a confirmed positive case, or who have a positive rapid antigen test who have been trying to get a PCR test for several days but have been rejected .
Others were tested before Christmas but are still waiting for their result.
Long queues give waiting times of several hours. Some people had been rejected half an hour after a test site opened because it was overcapacity. At others, people camped overnight to make sure they were at the top of the queue.
Amy McNeilage and her mother both tested positive on a rapid antigen test earlier in the week and were finally able to get a PCR test on Wednesday after driving an hour from northwest Sydney to Lithgow.
McNeilage’s mother was rejected from three test sites Tuesday – Castle Hill, Rouse Hill and Penrith. They checked the NSW Health website and saw that Hawkesbury exhibits would be open from 6 p.m. 8.00, then got up early and joined the queue at. 6.15.
The website later marked it as closed. McNeilage and her partner need official confirmation from a PCR test to be able to return to their home in Canberra and show their employers why they need time off work. They will be quarantined in Sydney until they are allowed to travel.
“I just feel incredibly grateful that I’ve been vaccinated because I’ve been pretty sick, sicker than I expected to be by being double vaccinated,” McNeilage says. “I hate to think about what form I would be in if I had not been vaccinated.”
Officials in three states – Victoria, South Australia and NSW – have said test capacity should be reserved for people who have symptoms or have returned a positive rapid antigen test (RAT).
The NSW government has blamed the rising test queues for “tourism testing”, mainly people traveling to Queensland who have to show a negative PCR test.
NSW Health sent texts to people who performed a PCR on Wednesday, warning that the waiting time for results would be 72 hours.
In a statement, it said it was taking steps to “limit tests that are not clinically urgent”, prioritize people who have Covid symptoms or a positive rapid antigen test, are a household contact or have been in a high transmission site .
Karen Lang spent Christmas at home with her partner, her adult son and daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend, who suffered from severe flu-like symptoms that she assumes are Covid. Her son was identified as a close contact and began to feel unwell on December 19th. He tested positive on December 20, Lang and her daughter tested negative.
Lang and her daughter then started getting sick, so they took the test again on December 23rd. They still have not got a result. Lang’s partner, who was tested on December 24, did not get a result either. Her daughter’s boyfriend, who also tested on the 24th, got a negative test result back five days later.
Lang and her partner are booked to get their booster shots next week, but do not know if they should keep the reservation. If they have had Covid, they should not get the shot for another six months. But if their long-delayed PCR test comes back negative, they should get the shot. “So what do we do?”
Some, like Michael Banford, returned a positive fast antigen test, looked at the queues for PCR tests and decided not to be tested at all.
Banford began to feel weak early last week and returned two positive quick antigen tests. It is now 10 days since his symptoms first appeared and the 53-year-old, who was double-vaccinated with AstraZeneca, said he was feeling better. He will take a few quick antigen tests before leaving the isolation.
NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr. Kerry Chant, said that people who are just looking for a screening test should use a fast antigen test not a PCR test, but that people who test positive on a fast antigen test or who have symptoms should still get a PCR test.
She went on to say that the very high proportion of positive test results – currently above 5% – meant that the test clinics “probably did not reach all the cases”.
“So there’s probably more disease in society than the numbers reflect.”
The test queues are slightly shorter in Victoria, with the average result time being around two days.
Laura Strehlau has been taking her family for five PCR tests since Dec. 17, when her eight-year-old son was identified as a close contact. He tested positive, followed by her six-year-old and then yesterday her four-year-old. So far, Strehlau has not tested positive himself.
The longest they have waited for a test result is five days, the shortest eight hours – from a small test clinic in Healesville. They have also screened with rapid antigen tests, but Strehlau says it was unfair to expect people to rely on the increasingly expensive tests.
“I’m a single mom, I’ve had to go into my savings to buy them,” she says. “They are hard to get and they are expensive, it’s the toilet paper in 2021.”