Virus experts reveal how to ease Covid testing woes

It comes as Victoria announced 1999 new Covid cases and three deaths on Monday.After swab centres were again overwhelmed, epidemiologists said the government had to “get smarter” as it prepared for a rush of people seeking a test after Christmas celebrations.By 10am on Monday, about 20 sites had temporarily closed because they were “over capacity”, while another five were estimating waiting times of up to three hours. With some staff on Christmas leave, the state’s testing system was operating at about 80 per cent of capacity on Sunday with the average wait time for a test about 90 minutes.The system will return to full capacity today. Former World Health ­Organisation epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said wait times were “absolutely” deterring people from getting swabs. “I know several people who have just given up after waiting several hours,” Professor ­Esterman said. “We shouldn’t have to wait that long.”Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said critical cases could go undetected if people with mild symptoms did not get tested. “They get to a queue and a couple of hours in they might just say ‘I don’t think it is Covid, I’ll leave’,” she said. “If that’s the case, the system is wrong.” She was also concerned about delays in receiving results.Three in 10 people are still waiting for results a day after their tests, amid issues with one pathology provider with interstate laboratories.The Herald Sun is aware of some people waiting more than three days for results.“If you are at high risk of a serious infection because you are immunocompromised or you have comorbidities, not only do you have to wait longer in a queue, you have to wait another three or so days,” Professor ­Bennett said. “We actually know people at risk of developing serious illness do a lot better the earlier they’re ­diagnosed. It could be a life or death matter if they have to wait three extra days.”Nina Wong, who waited more than an hour at a Bourke St testing site on Sunday, said: “There was one boy who was sitting next to me, and because there were so many people he left.” Victoria recorded its four biggest testing days of the pandemic in the past 10 days, with 92,262 swabs on December 21, 88,083 on December 17, 85,112 on December 22 and 83,456 on Christmas Eve.One in five people is believed to be getting tested to be permitted to travel interstate.The delays prompted ­renewed calls, first made by the Victorian and federal government last week, for Queensland and Tasmania to dump requirements for interstate travellers to produce negative tests. South Australia abandoned its rule on Sunday. “You’re sending (travellers) to a testing centre with symptomatic people, just before they leave,” Professor ­Bennett said. “Have another tier (of testing). You’ve got PCR, you’ve got home testing … but you’ve also got in the middle of that a professionally collected, supervised rapid antigen test to satisfy border ­require­ments.”Professor ­Esterman said the state government should open a handful of 24-hour testing sites and employ more health professionals – beyond doctors and nurses – to do the tests.“The question is why can’t we actually man them with much less qualified people … like dental and pharmacy ­assistants,” he said. “All it is, is sticking the swab up someone’s nose and wearing PPE.”The Herald Sun understands that authorities are not considering 24-hour clinics.Asked why more had not been done to boost testing centres knowing travellers would need to be screened, Covid commander Jeroen Weimar said capacity had been increased 50 per cent over the past three months.“It has been really encouraging to see the number of Victorians who are still prepared to come out on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, on Boxing Day to get tested,” he said. “We expect to see more people coming forward to get tested in the days ahead as we see the results of Christmas parties.”

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