Victoria records 1999 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths, as forced testing site closures continue

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Victoria has recorded 1999 new coronavirus cases and three deaths, as health authorities consider letting people exposed to COVID-19 clear themselves from isolation in a move that would ease pressure on the state’s stressed PCR testing sites.

The number of people in hospital with the virus has remained steady at 368, with 119 of them in intensive care units.

The COVID-19 testing queue at Melbourne Town Hall on Christmas Day. Credit:Joe Armao

Eighty people in ICU were active COVID-19 cases, while the other 39 people were cleared of the virus. Thirty-eight people were on a ventilator.

The proportion of Victorians aged over 12 who were fully vaccinated stood at 92 per cent.

Another 57,818 COVID-19 tests were processed on Sunday, when people again faced hours-long delays at testing sites.

The state government is considering a major change to Victoria’s COVID-19 testing regime, which would see people exposed to the virus in workplaces, social settings, businesses and events able to clear themselves from isolation using rapid antigen tests, rather than queuing for a PCR.

The government placed a large pre-Christmas order for rapid tests, and the push to allow asymptomatic contacts to use at-home tests is partly designed to take pressure off the state’s PCR testing sites.

The policy to expand use of 15-minute tests for some close contacts after exposure at places such as churches, cafes, stadiums and social occasions is still being developed and has not received final approval, according to a senior government source speaking anonymously to detail confidential talks.

Under the plan, anyone who tests positive to a rapid test or develops symptoms would still be required to take a PCR test, as would household contacts.

Some testing sites across Victoria were again at full capacity and temporarily closed within minutes of opening on Monday morning.

At least nine sites were forced to close by about 7.20am, including La Trobe University’s Bundoora site, Deakin University’s Burwood site, Central Bayside Community Health at Cheltenham, Keilor Basketball Netball Stadium, Springers Leisure Centre, Bourke Street walk-in in the CBD, and Moonee Valley Racecourse.

By about 8.45am, the list of testing sites closed because they reached capacity had grown to 16.

About 30 cars were queued up at the Albert Park testing site about 6am on Monday, an hour before it opened. Some Victorians are waiting five days to receive their COVID-19 test results.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said a mistake that saw more than 400 people incorrectly given negative COVID-19 test results in NSW on Christmas Day showed the PCR testing system was under too much pressure.

“We can’t be PCR testing everybody like this; we need to move and evolve with this virus, and in this case, that means relying more on rapid antigen testing,” he told Nine’s Today program on Monday morning.

“As far as the PCR testing, it should be used and reserved for confirmatory diagnosis or people who really are symptomatic or in the hospital, that type of that setting.”

Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Sunday health authorities had moved to random genomic screening of positive cases to decipher the spread of the Omicron variant, as they expect it to “gather pace in Victoria”.

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