Separately, infected people who listed their rapid antigen tests with the Department of Health for the first time on Friday — accounting for 26,428 extra infections announced on Saturday — were also falsely informed they could leave isolation from the date the positive tests were received, rather than seven days later.
Corrections were later sent out about 90 minutes later. “We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused,” the messages said.
Waiting times at testing sites have been up to six hours or more after a spike of Omicron cases and increased demand through the busy Christmas and New Year period, forcing the Victorian government to expand its reliance on rapid antigen tests which were also in short supply. Many people have been unable to access either PCR or rapid tests, which were now being distributed for free at 40 testing sites.
Melbourne Pathology was one of four private pathology labs which closed its testing centres from Tuesday, along with 4Cyte, ACL and Dorevitch, to process a backlog of tests. The providers run a total of 54 testing sites in Victoria, with 4Cyte accounting for 41.
Melbourne Pathology medical director Ellen Maxwell this week told ABC Melbourne radio there was an “absolute tsunami” of testing demand in the lead up to the festive period and staff had been working overtime.
“I think there’s no relief in the very short term, in the next few weeks, and I would just beg for some forgiveness from the community about the limitations of the system to be able to provide them with the level of testing that they’ve become used to,” said Dr Maxwell, who tested positive with the virus this week.
“We’re all a bit distressed that we can’t maintain it at this point in time.”
Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia president Lawrie Bott this week said it was an “extremely challenging time for laboratories”.
“We ask for the community’s patience and cooperation as the turnaround times of Australia’s laboratories’ increase. At present, laboratories are running beyond capacity and staff are working under significant pressure. To put this into context, 1.7 million PCR tests have been done in the past week, that’s 242,000 per day. That’s approximately 1 test in every 106 people in Australia, each day,” Dr Bott said.
Laboratories have had to change testing procedures due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and staff were also being furloughed after being infected with the virus, Dr Bott said.
Melbourne Pathology was contacted for a response.
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