Many Melburnians attempting to get tested for Covid-19 have faced another day of long waits, with some forced to drive in loops for up to an hour while awaiting treatment.
Victoria is expanding its Covid-19 response in six local government areas with high levels of community transmission, urging all residents with even mild symptoms to present for testing.
On Tuesday the premier, Daniel Andrews, said the recent cases were “certain” to result in further community transmission.
On Tuesday lines of cars stretched down the street at some locations as people responded to the call to get tested.
On Monday callers to talkback radio reported three-hour waits at drive-through clinics around the city, suggesting the Northland shopping centre clinic even had to turn people away.
On Tuesday cars at the Northland centre, in the affected local government area of Darebin, were instructed to keep driving in long loops of a nearby street, with one security worker telling a driver it was “pot luck” when they would get seen.
“Just keep doing loops, you will get seen eventually … I can’t tell you when, just keep doing loops,” passing cars were told.
Two security workers discussed the need to get the driver of a blue Holden seen since they were “on their third loop” and “looked weary”.
One worker encouraged someone in their car to “not give up”.
Amelia, who asked for her last name not to be used, said she was there for the second day.
“We came yesterday, we drove around for an hour and they said that it was full and to come back tomorrow morning … it was so frustrating seeing the car in front of us and the cars behind us being let in and we don’t know why,” she said from her car.
“I came back here today and I’ve been waiting for another hour … I was driving and driving around, I don’t know how many times.”
Amelia was bringing her nine-year-old daughter to get tested, unable to send her back to school with a slight cold.
“We just need to get her tested negative so we don’t all have to isolate … At her school there have been kids showing up with symptoms and then sent home … It’s frustrating, but I understand not every parent can take the time off work.”
She was eventually let into the holding section and told to park before she could drive into the testing area. She said she was attempting to do work from her phone while she waited.
“It’s really stressful, I just wish they would tell you so I could have brought proper snacks for the kids.”
A spokesman from the Department of Health and Human Services said some sites were busier than others.
“There are well over 100 testing sites operational across Victoria, however, we are aware that some sites – particularly drive-throughs – are experiencing extremely high demand,” he said.
“It’s a good thing Victorians are going out and getting tested and we ask everyone to please be patient and understanding as our dedicated health care workers on-site do their best to get through everyone as quickly as possible.”
In response to the increased demand for testing in hotspot suburbs, the Victorian government has opened additional pop-up clinics in Keilor Downs and Dandenong, as well as extending hours at others.
Callers to radio station 3aw suggested some fixed sites such as the Austin Hospital in Heidelberg had shorter waiting times.
The six affected local government areas are Brimbank, Hume, Moreland and Darebin in Melbourne’s north and west, and Casey and Cardina in the city’s south-east.
On Sunday the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advised against travel to and from these areas.
On Tuesday cafe owners in those areas said business had slowed since the advice was issued.
“In the last couple of weeks everyone started to relax a lot, and that anxiety really has come back up,” said Alex Killerby, the floor supervisor at Lobbs cafe in Brunswick, in the Covid-19 hotspot area of Moreland.
Several blocks away, the Brunswick East Primary school was shut down on Tuesday morning after a student tested positive to the virus.
“I was off yesterday but when I came in today I really noticed that everything had gone right down … people don’t seem to be coming in for the big lunches any more as they had started to, and [the virus] was definitely a big topic of conversation with the takeaway customers”, Killerby said.
Lobbs had planned to open with 40 seats, up from 24, when restrictions were due to ease this week, but those plans have now been put on hold.
“I think we are actually really lucky because there are so many people who live in this area that are now working from home,” Killerby said. “We have really relied on those regulars.”
Several doors down at the A1 bakery, manager Anthony Raji said being unable to reopen was frustrating but he was still feeling positive.
“It’s sad not having people coming in as often but the locals have shown their support and kept us going the whole way through,” he said.
“We were pretty much open and ready to go when they released the news Saturday night that we couldn’t do so … Now with the second wave, it isn’t really showing too much yet, but hopefully the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to tell where we are at.”