Testing sites struggle under demand

Nurses and doctors are being called on to cut their holidays short and help staff Victoria’s coronavirus testing clinics after centres were inundated with people wanting to be tested.

The state has 190 testing clinics in operation, however the thousands of Victorians returning from holidays in NSW has triggered huge queues across Melbourne.

A recent outbreak in the Melbourne suburb of Black Rock, where hundreds have been told to isolate and get tested, has also added to the clinic waiting times.

Victoria recorded three new cases on Sunday – all linked to the Black Rock outbreak – which has now grown to 21 infections.

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Despite the delays, and queues regularly stretching for more than four hours, Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said health authorities were rapidly expanding capacity.

“We’ve added around 40 per cent more capacity on Friday compared to what we had planned to do … We’ll step it up again today (Sunday) but it’s not something we can turn on at the flick of a switch,” he told reporters yesterday.

“The choice we faced before Christmas was, do you hold people over and not let them go on leave after they have absolutely flogged themselves for nine months? Or do you say no, you have to stand around on the testing stations on the off chance. We took a view that we needed to have the right balance of resources.

“We are asking people to be patient. People are getting through the system, it is just taking longer.”

Victoria closed its border to NSW on December 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing home before facing a hard border or hotel quarantine.

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Victoria has been grappling with a handful of coronavirus cases since late December, after the massive outbreak in NSW spread south.

Health authorities issued an urgent appeal to tens of thousands of nurses and midwives on Saturday night, asking them for their “urgent support to work in testing sites across Victoria, including regional areas”.

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick told The Age some nurses had registered with the recruiting agency, but many were exhausted and needed a break.

“Many of them hadn’t had a break for more than 12 months, given people came back to assist in bushfire areas, then COVID was upon us quickly,” she said.

Victorian health officials are aiming for a zero-case day by as early as this weekend as they look to ease restrictions by mid-January.

Under the state’s COVID response strategy, multiple consecutive days of zero new cases could see a lifting of restrictions.

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