The Christmas Rush Is Making It Incredibly Hard To Get Tested For COVID Right Now

Between rapid antigen shortages and hours-long PCR wait times, it's a grim time to get tested.

covid test

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As families across the state try to protect their loved ones during the holiday season, it feels like it’s the hardest time since the start of the pandemic to get a COVID test in NSW.

Between rapid antigen test scarcity and hours-long wait times for a PCR test, the mad rush to get tested amid Omicron’s case number spikes, and the chance to finally travel interstate and overseas, is continuing to take its toll on the health system.

The recently introduced rapid antigen test proved an easier and quick alternative to lining up for a regular COVID counterpart. However, in the one month that the self-testing kits have been around, they’ve suddenly already all flown off the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies.

One of the fifteen approved suppliers, Roche Diagnostic, pinned the blame on individual retailers for not properly anticipating the skyrocket Christmas demand, according to 9News.

Much like hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitiser last year, the ability for customers to stock up on rapid antigen tests is a combination of planning and privilege that not everyone can afford en masse, when prices for a single test cost $15. Yet calls for the kits to be free or subsidised in Australia, and ideally handed out by the government like in the US and UK, still aren’t being heard.

“There’s clearly a whole range of issues right now not unique to NSW, that are challenging, and we will work through them,” said NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet this week, claiming he’ll raise the need for more supply on Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting.

He also recognised the significant wait times being experienced at under-the-pump COVID PCR testing clinics. “The effort to wait … in queues to get tested makes a real difference,” said Perrottet. “I know it’s been a challenge, but we want to keep people safe.”

PCR testing centres are a Russian roulette: it’s hard to say if you rock up whether you’ll be in-and-out, in line for hours, turned away, or arrive only to find out it’s been closed down entirely, regardless of the time or day of the week.

People have taken matters into their own hands, reporting their experiences on social media of quieter places to rush to, or suburbs to rule out completely. Nightlife queue monitor page Bondi Lines for example has taken a pivot from clubbing to COVID — now sharing infographics of crowdsourced wait times at different places across Sydney.

And yet, vital equipment like vials are running out, and pathology staff are under immense pressure to process more than 400,000 tests recorded since last Friday. It’s all well and good to acknowledge the efforts of the community, but Dominic Perrottet needs to do more to support the state as it pushes through a challenging variant during a demanding time of year.