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Testing rules fail to halt rush north



Despite the requirement of pre-departure Covid tests pushing clinics to breaking point, more than 441,000 people have now landed or driven into Queensland from interstate “hot spots” since borders reopened on December 13. Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said there had been some cancellations by people who “gave up” on the requirement for a PCR Covid test 72-hours before departure but, generally, it had been a positive time for operators. “We’re relieved that borders have stayed open despite the Omicron surge,” Mr Gschwind said. “There’s been more activity by interstate travellers than we’ve seen in well over a year.” He welcomed the Queensland government’s announcement that a test five-days after arrival was no longer necessary for visitors and returning residents, and was ­hopeful the pre-travel test could also be “sorted out”. “The solution has to be found, whether it’s rapid antigen testing, drastically increasing capacity or scrapping it altogether,” Mr Gschwind said.“Clearly there is a mismatch ­between the regulatory requirement and what’s practically possible and we have to find a solution to that, and preferably a national solution.”In some cases, people were forced to delay travel and rebook flights after their negative test took longer than 72-hours to be ­returned.The situation was not helped by the closure of a drive-through community testing clinic in a Sydney Airport carpark, due to traffic congestion caused by the exploding demand. Clinic operator Histopath also clamped down on those accessing its express pre-departure Covid testing at the Melbourne and ­Sydney international terminals. Due to “unprecedented demand” Histopath announced tests would be restricted to the day of ­departure for travellers heading overseas. Delayed test results were just one of the issues adding to ­airlines’ grief, with dozens of crew members also unable to work after being caught up in the tidal wave of Omicron cases. The problems peaked on Christmas Eve, when more than 100 flights out of Sydney and ­Melbourne were scrapped due to crew shortages.By Tuesday, Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia reported only a few dozen cancellations, and claimed to have accommodated all passengers affected.Airport departure boards on Tuesday showed 27 flights were cancelled out of Melbourne, 25 from Brisbane and 23 ex-­Sydney across the major domestic carriers. A Virgin Australia spokeswoman apologised to any guests impacted by the disruption and said they were ensuring everyone made it on to their final destination. “Impacted guests are contacted prior to travel and automatically moved on to alternative services that are departing as close to the original departure time as possible,” she said.

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