A “bureaucratic” requirement for Victorians to get tested for interstate travel has been blamed for the state system’s woes, as Omicron coronavirus cases rise.
Victoria on Wednesday reported 1,503 new cases of COVID-19 out of 92,262 test results – the most processed in a 24-hour window since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
Six other people died.
The overwhelming demand for testing forced at least 14 testing sites across the city to close at 9.45am.
They went east to Golfers Drive in Chadstone, southeast to Peninsula Health in Frankston and north to Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.
Some have since reopened, including drive-thru Albert Park, which suspended testing immediately after opening for a third day in a row.
COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said test sites were unusually busy, with wait times of between one hour and 90 minutes on average.
“The reason we are suspending the arrival of new people at testing stations is that we don’t want people to queue for four or five hours, which allows us to avoid that,” he said. he told reporters.
Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory all require fully vaccinated Victorians to provide a negative test result to enter their states.
Mr Weimar said more than a quarter of the tests in recent days have come from people who need a negative result to travel between states, describing it as a “bureaucratic reason” the system is blocked.
“It’s not a very productive way to use a PCR testing system,” he told reporters.
“The queues and additional waiting times that we are seeing right now are a by-product of that. We hope to move to a more reasonable arrangement in the very near future.”
Despite the long lines, Mr Weimar urged anyone with symptoms to show up for a PCR test or use a rapid home antigen test if they can get one in a supermarket or a pharmacy.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier urged governments to consider using rapid tests for travelers instead.
“Having this quick test so that they (people) can cross borders, I think, would be a sensible and prudent step that governments should consider, at the very least,” she told reporters.
Omicron variant cases jumped to 61, down from 37 on Tuesday.
Mr Weimar said the new strain will inevitably spread further to Victoria from New South Wales due to the high level of movement between the two states.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews interrupted his leave to attend Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting, where Australian leaders discussed indoor mask requirements and vaccine recalls amid the increase Omicron cases across the country.
Wearing masks indoors was strongly recommended and no changes were made to the schedule between COVID-19 vaccinations after the meeting.
If the deadline for boosters finally drops to four months after a second jab, an additional one million Victorians will become eligible and Mr Weimar said additional state-run sites will be set up to meet expected demand.
More than 17,000 Victorians received a dose of the vaccine on Tuesday, a four-fold increase from a fortnight ago.
The number of active cases in Victoria remains relatively stable at 13,888, as are the numbers for hospitalizations and intensive care.
Associated Australian Press