4Cyte Pathology says it sounded alarm for Victoria and Queensland’s government weeks before COVID-19 test chaos

An NSW laboratory under fire for delays in delivering COVID-19 results says trying to warn travelers’ demands of Victorian and Queensland governments would put a huge strain on pathology companies.

Over the past two weeks, test clinics across the eastern states have struggled to keep up with the high demand triggered by increasing numbers of cases and people in need of PCR testing for travel.

People have reported that they have been queuing for nine hours, only to be rejected, and infectious people have waited up to six days for their results to be delivered.

4Cyte operates clinics across NSW, Queensland and Victoria and has overseen much of the testing and laboratory work across Sydney and Melbourne.

After days of lack of response, the company’s medical director, Kate Harris, told ABC in a statement last night that it had been hit by a “perfect storm” and that it had become “impossible to control demand”.

Dr. Harris said 4cyte told the Victorian and Queensland governments that a negative PCR result was required as a condition of interstate travel would create a problem for pathology services.

It is unclear whether the same advice was provided to the NSW government.

“We warned the Victorian and Queens governments three weeks ago that travel requirements – domestic, international and returning travelers – would create a problem for pathology companies in meeting the strict deadlines,” said Dr. Harris.

“This, in conjunction with a massive increase in positive cases, which has since resulted in numerous close contact messages from various health departments as well as the rapidly increasing admission of the general public of rapid antigen tests at home … has resulted in the perfect storm.”

Positive patients requiring repeated testing as well as staff loss due to infection or close contacts added additional pressure.

“One day last week, we logged nearly 100,000 phone calls, which is impossible for any business to answer,” said Dr. Harris.

“This is due to people’s anxiety, where many call after 24 hours despite our warning that testing is 48-72 hours.”

“Our staff has been working non-stop for the past three weeks, including holidays, in an effort to help people with their holiday plans and festivities.”

The NSW government has blamed much of the testing chaos in Queensland, saying holidaymakers accounted for about a third of the state’s daily PCR tests.

Victoria had joined New South Wales to urge Queensland to return with its mandate for the PCR test regime for interstate travelers, due to concerns that it was putting undue pressure on its test network.

On Wednesday, Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, said all pathology laboratories were under “extraordinary pressure”.

“Through a combination of leave … and of course also some holiday guards, I think for all the understandable reasons that at some point we have continued to see high demand for PCR testing, not least through the intergovernmental travel arrangements.”

He said he believed 4Cyte was working through a “significant backlog” in Victoria and New South Wales and that they had reduced capacity at some test sites while clearing the backlog.

Queensland announced on Wednesday that it would scrap the PCR requirements on January 1, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk allowing quick antigen tests – which can give a negative result in 15 minutes – to be used instead.

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