Covid Brisbane: Man collapses waiting in line for PCR test

A man has fainted while waiting in a huge PCR testing line as the surge of the Omicron variant stretches the nation’s healthcare network to its limit.

A man who fainted while waiting in a huge Brisbane PCR testing line is just one of thousands of Australians struggling to navigate a gridlocked health system amid an Omicron surge.

The fallen gentleman received help from masked bystanders and was swiftly attended to by paramedics after he collapsed in a line that snaked out of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and down around the block.

The man is not believed to have suffered severe injuries – with Queensland Health checking his status at lunchtime on Monday – but was still wheeled away on a gurney past hundreds of onlookers holding their spot in line.

Just a month ago the scene would have been surreal, even by Covid standards: Pseudo-encampments of masked-up residents edging up Brisbane footpaths under the harsh summer sun, spending several hours of the new year public holiday with a bunch of strangers waiting to get a swab up the nose.

But it’s a scenario that is playing out across Queensland – and the rest of the nation – as the Omicron variant stretches healthcare networks to the limit.

Faced with navigating an unbearable testing maze, Brisbane residents have created their own online community.

The “How’s the testing line” Facebook page features hundreds of real-time updates from residents on testing locations around the city as well as the availability of in-demand rapid antigen tests.

“FYI – Got to RBWH walk-in line at 7:50am, finally had my test and am out (12:35pm),” wrote Narelle Aplaon on Monday.

“Briggs road Hockey field testing is absolutely chokers,” says Sonia Oakley.

“Does anybody have a rapid test they could spare Gold Coast?” asks Hannah Simonovic. “Turned away from many drive through PCR due to wait time.”

Hundreds of thousands of Australians have spent hours of their holidays stranded in testing lines, and waiting even longer for results, as the virus caseload surges to unprecedented levels.

What’s more, wait times continue to blow out even as the nation attempts to ease pressure on health networks and move away from more onerous PCR lab tests to the quicker, at-home rapid antigen testing (RATs).

Nationally decreed tweaks as to what constitutes a close Covid contact, as well as new rules around isolation requirements, have so far failed to ease the backlog of people seeking PCR confirmation of their diagnosis.

In NSW, residents have been urged not to head out for a PCR test unless it is absolutely necessary, a situation complicated by the RATs being in short supply.

Health authorities in Victoria have also issued an urgent warning, telling people not to turn up to the emergency department at several of the state’s hospitals.

“Those with mild Covid symptoms seeking PCR or rapid tests should not attend. Thank you for your co-operation,” wrote Western Health.

In Queensland, where the total active cases has risen nearly tenfold to 20,000 since Christmas, chief health officer John Gerrard acknowledged the public holiday closure of many private testing clinics had resulted in particularly long delays at public testing sites.

“As the private testers come back from the Christmas break, we are expecting increasing capacity,” Dr Gerrard said.

Queensland in late December scrapped the need for day-five PCR testing for new arrivals and on January 1 did away with PCR testing at the border altogether, replacing it with a RAT honesty system.

The scramble for RAT tests has been fierce in the Sunshine State, although supply should improve in the coming weeks after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she had managed to secure an extra 18 million tests.

This includes 12 million at-home tests and almost six million point-of-care tests.

At-home RATs will be provided from public test sites free to close contacts and Covid-19 positive people who require testing under a public health direction.

The tests will arrive in smaller numbers over the coming week or so, with a large volume expected in late January.

Nonetheless, Queenslanders with Covid symptoms are advised to continue to attend a Queensland Health or private testing centre to undertake a PCR test.

Supply of RATs was already an issue before the state government announced it would be switching from the more onerous PCR testing for border arrivals and close contact classifications.

Ms Palaszczuk acknowledged people across the state had been struggling to secure RATs.

“I know it’s the topic of conversation everywhere I go,” she said.

“Also, we’ve been speaking with the pharmacies … They have been getting more stockpiles in over coming weeks as well. So we know that is a big procurement that has happened and it will arrive. ”

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