People wait to be tested at a Covid-19 testing station in College Rd, Northcote on August 18, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Testing hard and early: Tales from Auckland’s colossal Covid car queues

As more cases of Covid-19 are picked up in the community, New Zealanders are heading to get tested – hard and early. 

Yesterday, in Auckland alone, around 24,000 swabs were taken from the nasal passages of concerned citizens. Around 8,000 of these were done at community centres, including pop-ups in Pakuranga, St Johns, and Māngere East created to cope with the increased demand. The remainder were taken at GPs and urgent care clinics. There are still no spit testing options available – the nasal swab continues to dominate our diagnostic procedures.

Many of those community testing centres have seen record lines; with more than 100 locations of interest listed in the city, there are few corners of it that are unaffected. The Birkenhead vaccination centre, close to several locations of interest, has closed due to staffing shortages since the announcement of the community cases. This was the largest vaccination centre on the North Shore.

On the Shore this morning, residents lined up as early as 1.30am at the Northcote testing station, Breakfast reported, hoping to beat the line when it finally opened at 8.30am.

Georgia* was in the infamous Northcote testing line yesterday, and says the queue came to a standstill toward the front. “Everything has stopped moving,” she said at the time. “The staff are in a shambles – poor people so overwhelmed, and the system’s not working.”

When she was finally tested at 6pm last night, 10 hours after joining the queue, the healthcare worker taking the swab was apologetic. “She looked like she was going to cry,” says Georgia. Many patients coming through had been understandably frustrated by the full day’s wait. “But she said [those] people don’t understand they’ve been there for that long as well.”

Most of the people in these cars did not have snacks (Image: Madeleine Chapman)

There were whispers of quieter testing stations out east and west, but Spinoff staffer Alice Webb-Liddall said she didn’t find this to be true. She and her fiance were contacts of a casual contact, and ended up trying three different locations yesterday before finally getting the swab.

They’d been told Henderson had no cars, so headed out there first. “The line was so long, we didn’t even try to line up.” She hazarded a guess at five kilometres.

The Balmoral line, at first glance, looked shorter. “It turned out it was way longer than it looked,” she says. It curved around several blocks, hiding its full length for almost the entire queue. After a couple of hours, she realised the enormity of the line. “We decided to stick it out,” she says. “We made this commitment.”

Two hours later, they called a friend to come and leave snacks on the footpath for them to jump out and grab. “The stupidest thing I saw was people getting out of their cars and going into the dairies to get snacks,” she says. If you’ve been to a location of interest or believe you’re a casual contact of a case, instructions are to self-isolate until your test results are returned – this means staying in your car and not going to dairies.


Related:

Things to do while you’re in the Covid testing queue


Eventually, a passerby informed Webb-Liddall the line would be at least another four hours. “It was probably going to close before we got there.” So they left, and gave their GP a call. Two hours later they rocked up to an appointment and had the test done, no wait required.

A friend of hers, also in the Balmoral line, was there from 8am and didn’t get tested until almost 5pm.

Simone* was luckier, waiting just over four hours to get tested this morning at the North Harbour Events Centre – from about 7am to 11am. “We went early, so we got a place in the queue that was a way back, but not excessively.” Northcote College, which had a case announced yesterday, is in the area, hence her decision to head to the testing station early.

She says while there was no traffic direction for the extremely long and occasionally complicated line, there were a couple of comforts afforded those waiting. “There was a guy walking up and down the final road before you get into the car park, and he was giving out water and apples and muesli bars.” There were also port-a-loos near the testing point entry.

In the 3pm update today, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield expressed sympathy for both the people in line and those swabbing them. “There is very high demand,” he said. “It’s wonderful that everyone is coming and being tested. It’s very important, and I want to thank people for their patience.”

Bloomfield said the number of lanes had been scaled up, and that police are helping to manage traffic flows. He added there will be more pop up sites in coming days to deal with the demand. However, he suggested people ensure they need to be tested before submitting themselves to the community centre-line ordeal.

“If you were not at a location of interest at the stated times, and you do not have symptoms, you do not need to get tested,” he said. “In fact, the most important thing you can do is stay at home in your bubble.”

“If you have symptoms, wherever you are in the country, do get a test.”

If you’re unsure whether or not you need a test, you can call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

To find out how long the line for your nearest testing site is, you can use Time in the Line.

*Interviews were conducted on the condition only first names would be used




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