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Cross-border travellers left in lurch as lack of SA COVID-19 testing sites creates confusion

ABC Health logo ABC Health 30/07/2020 By Anita Ward, Matt Stephens and Narelle Graham
a man holding a sign posing for the camera: Nurse Practitioner Di Thornton has been inundated with requests for COVID-19 tests. (ABC Riverland: Meg Vonic-Joyce) © Provided by ABC Health Nurse Practitioner Di Thornton has been inundated with requests for COVID-19 tests. (ABC Riverland: Meg Vonic-Joyce)

There are growing calls for a mobile COVID-19 testing clinic to be established at the South Australia-Victoria border in the Mallee region, as essential travellers are being left in the lurch after a new police direction came into effect on Wednesday.

The direction states cross-border travellers must produce evidence of a COVID-19 test every seven days.

The zone for cross-border community members to get a mandatory test has also been narrowed, with those residing in Victoria only allowed to travel 40 kilometres into SA.

Mallee Border Health Centre nurse practitioner Di Thornton works between the communities of Murrayville in Victoria and Pinnaroo in SA.

Her private practice is one of the only places currently conducting COVID-19 tests in the region and she is calling for more testing sites to be established, and clearer information to be released.

"I would've thought as one of the local health practitioners we may have had some warning [about the new rule]; that wasn't to be," Dr Thornton said.

She said she was run off her feet conducting 17 tests at Murrayville yesterday and sent her practice manager to the border to get information after receiving no further clarification from SA Health.

"It's still very difficult to get succinct, clear information about what's going on," Dr Thornton said.

"As far as I know we're the only [local] service offering COVID-19 tests to both South Australian and Victorian residents at the moment."

Nowhere to go

Tiffany Atze has been operating a cross-border shearing contracting business and ran into trouble yesterday when police instructed her shearers to get a test within 24 hours.

After calling Pinnaroo hospital along with a state-run medical clinic and a private practice, all within 40km of the border, she found there was nowhere her shearers could get tested within the set time period.

"I rang the Pinnaroo hospital because according to the SA Health website you can do testing there, which is incorrect," Ms Atze said.

"I rang again to check this morning and they're definitely not doing COVID-19 tests at Pinnaroo hospital."

After calling the hospital to confirm, the ABC was directed back to SA Health.

SA Health said COVID-19 tests are available at Pinnaroo and Lameroo hospitals, including for cross-border travellers who required mandatory testing without showing symptoms.

But Ms Atze said the Lameroo hospital was more than 40km from the border, which meant the Victorian shearers could not go there.

The private clinic advised Ms Atze her shearers would need to wait several days for a test due to a growing list of people that required testing.

This morning, police allowed the Victorian shearers to cross into SA without a COVID-19 test, after the workers explained their situation.

The shearers have been booked for testing tomorrow morning at the state-run Mallee Medical Practice in Pinnaroo, where a drive-through clinic has been established today.

Expansion needed for border testing

Both Ms Thornton and Ms Atze agree the Mallee district needs a mobile testing clinic at the border checkpoint between Pinnaroo and Murrayville.

"They've got them at Bordertown, [Yamba, Mount Gambier] and Naracoorte," Ms Thornton said.

"I think the simplest and easiest place for people to go and know where they can go would be to have a testing station at the border."

Ms Atze estimated there were "hundreds of people" who needed to travel across the border each day.

"If this is mandatory, [a mobile testing clinic] needs to be available. SA Health have completely dropped the ball on this and not provided the services needed," she said.

"I see [it] as completely wrong and inefficient and puts a massive stress load on communities.

"I think it was a good directive but the information wasn't passed on clearly — it wasn't planned clearly."

Chief Public Health Officer apologises

SA Health said it was closely monitoring the situation and would work with SA Pathology to provide additional resources where needed.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier admitted there were problems this morning with too many people turning up at the Tailem Bend clinic in the state's south-east, resulting in long queues.

She said it was likely those getting tested were South Australians returning to the state from Victoria before the cut-off or people living near the border who are required to be tested regularly.

Professor Spurrier thanked people for their patience.

"I do apologise but it really shows how South Australians have got on board with this," she said.

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