Potential Coronavirus Patients Turned Away From Clinics, Waiting Days For Tests
Australians say they've been forced to wait up to a week for a coronavirus test appointment, as authorities plead for calm and ask people not to flood medical clinics.
Health officials are treading a fine line requesting people get tested if they feel sick, have recently travelled overseas or have come into contact with someone with coronavirus. But they're also asking those who aren't at risk, even if they feel sick, to not clog facilities.
On Wednesday, lines of people who reportedly waited up to several hours to get tested for the virus were filmed outside some Sydney clinics.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said there was "a number of people seeking testing who don't need it" and that there was "no point being tested" if they weren't at risk.
Dr Harry Nespolon, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said some doctor's clinics were "overwhelmed" by dozens of people requesting tests.
A health package announced Wednesday contained millions of dollars for increased testing capacity and new facilities. It comes as multiple people who have tried to get tested for coronavirus in recent days complained they've been told to go home, that they would have to wait several days for an appointment, or struggled to even navigate the system to get a referral for a test.
NSW Health said tests typically take two days to be returned, but some people say they've waited longer.
Martin Evans, from Sydney, said he went to a doctor in the suburb of Meadowbank on Monday after experiencing severe cold and flu symptoms over the weekend. He said he got a referral for a coronavirus test, but after calling several nearby facilities -- and waiting on hold for an hour on a NSW Health hotline -- the soonest he could secure an appointment was next Monday.
Evans said his call centre job won't let him return until he gets cleared, and has to stay in isolation at home until the test results come back, which won't be until next Wednesday at least -- 10 days after he tried to get tested.
"If you have to wait, that's fine, I get it, but waiting a week to schedule an appointment doesn't make sense," he told 10 daily.
"By the time I have results, I probably will be fully recovered."
Evans said he has five days of sick leave from his job, but will be forced to use annual leave for the rest of the isolation period. He said he's lucky to have the leave, and isn't worried about using it -- but his partner is also in isolation waiting for test results, and as a casual worker at a Korean restaurant does not enjoy the same conditions and is currently without pay.
"It's really frustrating," Evans said.
Cassie Shoukry, who lives in the southern Sydney suburb of Sylvania, claimed her family had to wait more than four days for their test results. After taking her daughter to the doctor for a routine checkup, she said they were referred for a coronavirus test on Thursday, March 5. Her family of six waited at home, in self-isolation, and were told it could take until Wednesday March 11 to hear news.
On Monday, March 9, "after a lot of chasing" and calling health authorities, the family got the news they'd been cleared.
"Isolation was our own choice, the doctor didn’t say to do it, but we weren't going to spread it around if we did have it," Shoukry told 10 daily.
"My kids missed many things and it was tough to lock ourselves in and not see anyone. [Health authorities] said there was a backlog of tests."
She said it was "ridiculous" that it took so long to hear results.
Rick Moore, a man from Wollongong, said he'd attended a medical clinic on Monday for a test. When he got to the front of the line, he was told it was too late in the day to be tested -- Moore said he was told to go home and was given an appointment at 3.30 pm the next day for a drive-through appointment.
One woman, Casey, spoke to 10 News First on Tuesday and claimed she'd spent more than eight hours outside Ryde Hospital in the previous 24 hours, waiting for a test after getting a referral from her GP.
A spokesperson for NSW Health reiterated that only people with symptoms, who have recently returned from overseas or come into contact with a confirmed coronavirus case, seek testing.
"COVID-19/Flu clinics are being established within all Local Health Districts across NSW to assess and diagnose patients with possible COVID-19 infections and other respiratory illness such as influenza as we approach the winter season," the spokesperson said in a statement to 10 daily.
"NSW Health is also expanding the laboratory capacity across public hospitals and private laboratories to scale up the analytical testing to determine the results of those tests."
NSW Health said it can currently perform more than 1000 tests a day at hospitals in Randwick, Westmead and Liverpool -- with four more soon to have that capacity -- but did not respond to questions about how many tests could be processed and returned each day.
"This testing can take up to two days to complete and report back," the spokesperson said.
It comes after claims of confusion and conflicting messages among health officials.
Health Minister Greg Hunt claimed a statement of his on Sunday was misinterpreted. He said "if in doubt, get yourself tested", which was taken by some as a request to get screened in the case of any normal flu symptoms -- but Hunt on Wednesday stressed that he was only talking about people who had been "in a high risk area or if you've been in contact and you have symptoms".
The Australian Medical Association this week has called on the country's governments to provide uniform information on the coronavirus, warning "inconsistent" messaging is fuelling hysteria and "unexplained panic".