HUNTER residents were warning each other to "bring a book" to the drive-through COVID clinics after the Sydney outbreak and extra restrictions continued to drive a spike in demand for testing.
Clinics right across the Hunter were "completely swamped" on Monday with hundreds of people queuing in traffic with most sites reaching "capacity" throughout the day.
A Port Stephens resident recommended people bring a "paperback" and to make sure they had a full tank of petrol before attempting to get tested at the Nelson Bay drive-through clinic.
She said at least one person had waited about three hours for their test.
"They said they had arrived at 8am and had only just got through by about 11," she said.
"I waited nearly an hour and only got about a third of the way. I gave up.
"It is a holiday area. We have lots of tourists, and lots of retirees. We have one of the highest percentages of older people in NSW.
It comes as there were 18 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Sunday.
Of these, 15 have been linked to the Bondi cluster, two are close contacts of a previously reported case, and investigations continue for another.
So far, there have been no confirmed cases in the greater Newcastle area linked to the latest outbreak, but Hunter New England Health's Dr David Durrheim said what happens in the next week would offer a better indication of whether the virus had spread from Sydney to the Hunter.
"What we're seeing in today's numbers are transmissions that occurred probably before the Sydney lockdown occurred," Dr Durrheim said. "But it really takes a few days to get a good idea of the effectiveness of the lockdown."
Last week's sewage surveillance testing for COVID-19 fragments had not detected the virus.
"Right across the Hunter Water network - which includes Port Stephens, Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland - none of those have had detections," Dr Durrheim said. "Which is encouraging given at that point, there was still a large amount of movement from Sydney up the highway.
"We'll be watching carefully. Hopefully it will bring further comfort that the virus hasn't escaped, but we don't know that at the moment."
Dr Durrheim said in the week of April 25, 2021, there were 1480 COVID-19 tests done in Lake Macquarie, 1373 in Newcastle, and 648 in Maitland. In the past week, there had been 4154 tests in Lake Macquarie, 1934 in Maitland, and more than 4100 in Newcastle.
"Most of those have been in the last three days," Dr Durrheim said. "It has been a phenomenal response by the public. The high testing numbers will help us make sure we haven't missed it and that it's not transmitting in our community.
"We appreciate everyone's patience. Obviously the queues have been very long, and we know that from [Monday], the private laboratories are expanding their services and times of operation - which is fantastic.
"But the results may not be as quick as they have been in the past when the testing numbers were lower."
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