UPDATED, 4:10 pm Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has urged other jurisdictions to follow SA’s lead on testing requirements for travel and allow a rapid antigen test instead of a PCR test to ease the pressure on the ACT’s overwhelmed testing system.
Queensland appears to be the main culprit, with that state requiring thousands of travellers to have a negative PCR test to be able to enter.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the windows system used today to ease the pressure at stretched testing centres was a trial and if successful, would be repeated tomorrow and beyond.
Testing centres were quickly at capacity today and had to turn away people. About half of those turning up for tests have been interstate travellers.
The measures were designed to make it easier for cases to be identified among close contacts and returning international travellers.
A nervous Ms Stephen Smith said she was watching developments closely as the number of new cases more than doubled today to 189 from yesterday’s 71.
She said while there was only 1 person in hospital, new cases lagged hospital admissions.
“I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
She urged people to wear their masks because the virus was in the community and could still be transmitted despite the 98.5 per cent vaccination rate.
But there was no mention of introducing more restrictions or cancelling events.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the Mitchell testing site was putting through about the same number of people as the former site at EPIC, which had to be relieved so it could return to being an events site.
Summernats begins next week on 6 January.
The Minister said ACT Health just did not have the staff available at this time to stand up another testing site.
UPDATED 1:15 pm: The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the ACT has surged to 189 in the 24 hours to 8 pm yesterday but there is still only one person in hospital.
This brings the number of active cases to 688, mostly attributed to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Huge demand for testing, mainly for interstate travel requirements, has overwhelmed the ACT’s testing facilities despite ACT Health limiting access for tourism tests.
There were 4266 negative test results in the 24 hours to 9 am today, and there have been reports of delayed results that have caused people to reschedule flights.
NSW has recorded its first death linked to the Omicron variant, a man in his 80s who was a nursing home resident in North Parramatta where he contracted the virus.
There were also two more deaths, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 90s.
All three were double vaccinated.
NSW recorded 6324 new cases and the number of people in hospital increased to 520, with 55 in intensive care, most of whom were not related to Omicron.
Today, restrictions in NSW previously lifted have come back into force, including QR code check-ins and social distancing.
Victoria has recorded 1999 new cases and three more deaths, with 348 in hospital and 80 in intensive care while Queensland has 784 new cases.
The large number of people seeking COVID-19 tests for interstate travel over the Christmas period has forced ACT Health to ration testing today at the Garran and Mitchell centres.
ACT Health says it will be prioritising testing for people with the highest public health need at these testing centres between 11 am and 3 pm but all centres are at capacity and people are being turned away and told to come back later.
Garran and Mitchell will only test close contacts, people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or returned international travellers.
People who need a test for other reasons such as interstate travel have been told to go to the Kambah centre or use Garran and Mitchell before 11 am or after 3 pm.
People aged five and over who require testing, and are not close contacts, symptomatic or returned international travellers, can still present for testing at the Kambah drive-through, which is open from 8 am to 4 pm, or at the Mitchell drive-through (8 am – 11 am and 3 pm – 10 pm) and the Garran COVID-19 Surge Centre (7:30 am – 11 am and 3 pm – 9 pm).
For fully vaccinated close contacts who require a test to exit quarantine, a negative test result from a test collected on or after day five will be enough to leave quarantine after day seven provided they are symptom-free.
If they are notified they are a close contact on day four after their exposure, and are fully vaccinated and symptom-free, they can delay their initial test to day five or later.
ACT Health says its priority is testing people with the highest risk of exposure.
“Unfortunately the high demand caused by pre-travel testing requirements from other jurisdictions, has caused long waits at our testing centres,” it says.
“Wait times at our outdoor testing centres have also been impacted by occasional weather delays.”
New casual exposure sites across Canberra can be found here and have included bars, pubs and food venues over the past week including 88mph in Civic, Assembly in Braddon, the Rooftop Bar of the Howling Moon at the Canberra Rex Hotel and Capital Brewing and Spit Shack in Fyshwick.
A Murray’s bus to Sydney is also listed.