COVID-19 testing delays and ground flights separate families this Christmas

Christmas Day could be a bleak occasion for some families this year as their loved ones struggle to overcome several hurdles just to get home.

Most states require visitors to return a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival, which has seen people flock to testing sites and wait times soar.

With an increase in cases in most states and territories and thousands of close and occasional contacts requiring PCR testing, facilities have buckled under the pressure.

On top of that, at least 80 domestic flights were canceled across all airlines at Sydney Airport on Christmas Eve due to a staff shortage.

“Really frustrating and stressful”

The Jolly family from Brisbane have spent the last two days sweating over the family’s test results from New South Wales.

“It’s really, really frustrating and stressful. We haven’t seen our grandchild for almost a year,” said Arvind Jolly.

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COVID testing facilities under pressure as the Christmas holidays approach
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Mr Jolly’s daughter Disha, her two-year-old granddaughter and her son-in-law attempted to take PCR tests in Sydney this week so the three of them could fly to Brisbane on December 25.

The trio were repeatedly pushed back from several clinics that were closed or at full capacity, until Disha could finally get tested on December 23.

Mr Jolly and his family were still awaiting test results to return on Thursday evening so they can meet the Queensland government’s travel requirements.

“We were hoping that everything would be fine with the border opening on the 17th and that we would be together for Christmas,” he said.

A family photo of parents and children standing around a cake with pink balloons above it
Mr Jolly (second from right) says his family are still awaiting the results of the PCR test. (Provided: Arvind Jolly)

The grandfather said he was frustrated. PCR tests were still needed for fully vaccinated travelers in Queensland.

Recently, Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk suggested that rapid antigenic tests could be used from next month.

He said he believes the Queensland government’s testing requirements are unnecessary and unnecessarily separate families over Christmas.

“Yes [Queensland] can use rapid antigen tests from January 1, why can’t we use them for Christmas to allow families to be together? It doesn’t make sense to me, ”he said.

The plans of the Victorians crushed at the airport

At Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on Friday, a paid PCR testing service stopped testing domestic travelers due to “unprecedented demand.”

Many passengers who risked missing their flight due to long delays at free state-run test sites relied on express service.

This week, Victoria’s COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said there was “significant demand” for testing from interstate travelers, with more than a quarter of state tests being processed at travel purposes.

SA test options not accessible

In South Australia, wait times for PCR tests recently reached eight hours, prompting the introduction of the rapid antigen test (RAT) on Friday.

SA Health said the RAT screening tool, for people without symptoms, will help reduce the burden on drive-through sites and pathology labs.

But for those showing symptoms of COVID-19, a PCR test is still required.

Amanda *, who lives in the western suburbs of Adelaide and does not drive due to a disability, said meeting the requirement was needlessly difficult for people like her.

“I ran into obstacles to get tested because I didn’t have a car,” she said.

“In South Australia it is almost impossible to be tested unless you have a car.

A line of cars near a sign with COVID-19 tests on it.
Amanda says drive-thru PCR testing is not accessible to people with disabilities. (ABC News: Gemma Room)

The 37-year-old man, who received three doses of the vaccine, said few sites in the western suburbs allow walk-in visits.

With demand for PCR testing skyrocketing wait times, she said walking through traffic and exhaust fumes put herself and others at risk.

“They need to make home testing more accessible, for people who really can’t make it to a testing site.”

Amanda said not knowing if she could access a PCR test before Christmas took a toll on her mental health.

“I want to do things, but I don’t want to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

* Amanda requested anonymity for this story.

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