The Christmas holidays have proved disastrous for New South Wales and its Covid testing capabilities.
Thousands of Australian families have spent upwards of four hours waiting in queues to get their Covid tests in order to travel interstate to holiday destinations. Delays, capacity problems, and early closures have led Premier Dominic Perrottet to beg people without symptoms not to get tested.
Added to the general chaos of the current Covid testing landscape, St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney wrongly sent 400 incorrect negative test results to people who were actually Covid-positive.
In a media statement released on Boxing Day, St Vincent’s Hospital said:
"SydPath last night incorrectly messaged more than 400 people, advising them they had tested negative to COVID. These people had tested positive to COVID.
"As soon as we became aware of the issue this morning, SydPath immediately commenced a process to contact impacted people.
"An emergency response team is now investigating the cause of this mistake, which is believed to be human error.
"We sincerely apologise to all those impacted."
The text messages sent out explained that the samples were ‘retested due to a laboratory error’. SydPath is a fully accredited laboratory operating inside the St Vincent’s Hospital campus. There are currently no further details about what caused the human error.
Professor Anthony Dodds, SydPath medical director, read out a statement to the press.
“Owing to the very large volume of tests that we’ve been contending with at SydPath, last night we incorrectly message 400 patients who had been swabbed at our centres from December 22 and December 23 advising them they had been tested negative to COVID-19. These people had in fact tested positive to COVID-19.
“As soon as we became aware of the issue this morning [December 26], SydPath immediately commenced the process to contact these impacted individuals.”
NSW Health has struggled to meet testing demands, with a message on their website reading:
NSW Health is working hard to meet testing demand and is increasing capacity where possible. Clinic opening and closing times are listed in the table below. Please note you may need to find an alternative clinic if the expected wait time extends beyond a clinic’s closing time. Clinic staff will do their best to provide information in these circumstances.
If you are getting tested for domestic travel purposes, please get tested near your home before you leave. Some regional clinics are experiencing long wait times due to an influx of tourists.
Large volumes of COVID-19 tests are currently being processed. Most people receive their results within 24-48 hours, but please allow up to 72 hours before contacting the clinic.
NSW Health has advised people to get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are fully vaccinated. Once tested, people must go directly home and self-isolate until their results come in unless they are NSW domestic travellers without symptoms, in which case they can carry on until their results come through. Those who received incorrect positive results and also had symptoms, may have left home isolation.
All international travellers (incoming and outgoing) are required to get a PCR test, putting extra pressure on the system now that Australians are allowed to leave the country.
A negative test result entitles people to a testing clearance certificate required to board a flight.