Australia Covid Lab Mistakenly Tells Hundreds They Tested Negative

As pathology clinics and hospitals across Australia struggle with high demand for coronavirus testing, a clinic in Sydney mistakenly told 400 people that they had tested negative for the virus, when, in fact, they had tested positive.

SydPath, the pathology service of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, the country’s most populous city, said in a statement on Monday that all those affected had been contacted. But the scale of the mix-up could grow.

The lab also said that 995 more people had been told that they had tested negative, when in fact, their results had not yet been determined. They, too, have been advised of the error and told that their results would be provided by Monday night, SydPath said.

The clinic blamed “a specific human error” for the mix-up and said that procedures had been put in place “to ensure this cannot happen again.”

The errors unfolded amid a surge in coronavirus cases in Australia. On Monday, officials recorded the first death linked to the Omicron variant, a man in his 80s in New South Wales. He had received two vaccine doses and had underlying health conditions, the state authorities said.

SydPath said that the error had occurred “at a time of unprecedented Covid testing activity,” adding that its staff members, as with other pathology teams in New South Wales, were “working around the clock to respond.”

Pathology clinics and hospitals in Australia are struggling to deal with high demand for Covid tests. Tens of thousands of people are lining up every day, either having been identified as close contacts of those with infections or because they require a negative P.C.R. test to travel interstate.

Some residents in the states of New South Wales and Victoria have reported being turned away from busy testing centers, or having to wait three or four days to receive their results.

Queensland and Tasmania require travelers headed into the states to show a negative P.C.R. test within 72 hours of departure. The governments of New South Wales and Victoria have criticized the requirement, saying that it is straining their states’ testing capabilities.

Australia reported a record 9,626 daily cases on Sunday, a 350 percent increase in the past 14 days, according to government statistics and The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker. Most of these cases were in New South Wales, which reported 6,394.

“We would expect that pretty well everybody in New South Wales at some point will get Omicron,” the state’s health minister, Brad Hazzard, said at a news conference on Sunday.

He warned residents not to call an ambulance or to go to the hospital unless they had severe symptoms because of the “enormous pressure” on the health care system.

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