Getting your hands on an at-home rapid antigen test will probably feel like a Christmas miracle this week.
As case numbers across the state and Illawarra soared, many of the region's testing sites saw long car queues ahead of the holiday period as people prepared for the festive season.
New cases in the region jumped from two dozen to 48, with 34 of them from the Wollongong LGA (one linked to a known case), 11 from Shellharbour (three linked to known cases), one from Shoalhaven and two cases from Kiama.
There have now been 2952 total community acquired COVID-19 cases reported since June 16, 2021, when the first case in this outbreak was reported.
Across the state, 3057 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.
The queue for the Bulli drive-through clinic stretched past the roundabout on Grevillea Park Road on Tuesday morning, with motorists asked to wait on the other side so as not to block the road for residents.
There were also queues at Towradgi, Wollongong, Albion Park and Shellharbour testing clinics.
Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District chief executive Margot Mains thanked those in the community who got tested as the state's case numbers continued to rise.
"There were 32,186 COVID-19 tests carried out across the district for the week ending December 19, which is almost 10,000 more tests that the previous week," she said.
"Testing is an important part of our response to COVID-19 and we continue to encourage anyone with even the mildest of symptoms to come forward for a test.
"However, the large volumes of COVID-19 tests, which includes people needing a test in order to meet travel requirements, means that we are seeing longer wait times for test results.
"Most people will receive their results within 24 hours, however, NSW Health has advised the community to allow up to 72 hours before contacting a clinic to chase up results.
"All available staff are working to ensure testing wait times are kept to a minimum."
Meanwhile, some people opted to skip the queue for "peace-of-mind" tests at home.
Rapid antigen kits cost upwards of $10 each and they have been available over the counter in some chemists and supermarkets since November. The cost jumps to about $30 for a pack of two or $50 for a pack of five.
The tests are not quite as reliable as the PCR tests but provide a faster result.
Convenient Chemist Wollongong pharmacist Michael Tsalidias said there was a large increase in demand for the quicker, at-home tests last week with the store's supply sold out as of Tuesday.
Customers were being turned away and advised to head to normal testing clinics, where there were long delays.
"There is a problem with the supplier or manufacturer and we have put in a big order for more stock after we sold out between Wednesday and Saturday last week," Mr Tsalidias said.
"People were buying two or four kits at a time."
From those customers he spoke to, Mr Tsalidias said they reported wanting the at home kits because the line up for the testing clinic were long, some required regular testing for work while others wanted them ahead of their Christmas gatherings.
Mr Tsalidias hoped to have multi-packs available on Wednesday or Thursday with single and double kits arriving later this week or next.
It was a similar story at Thirroul Central Chemist.
The pharmacy will not get more tests until Friday, staff member Susanna Smith said.
"We have had to turn people away all day on Monday and Tuesday and people are ringing around everywhere to try to get one," she said.
"We had 50 kits in store on Sunday and they all went. We do have more on order and hopefully they will arrive on Friday."
Ms Smith said customers had wanted them to prepare for their Christmas gatherings, or to take with them as they travelled around Australia, with others reporting testing queues had hours-long waits on Tuesday.
She also said the pharmacy was booked out until January with people wanting their booster shot ahead of the holiday period, with some requesting it before their vaccine wait time of five months was over.
Whitlam MP Stephen Jones said the government needed an overall plan and consistency with the guidelines for wearing face masks and checking in with QR codes.
"If we want to stop locking down our borders then we need to give people access to testing, and rapid antigen testing is a part of it so they should be free or subsidised," he said.
"Even if the rapid antigen tests were free, there is a big supply issue."
Mr Jones said he had struggled to get a testing kits for his family but managed to pick up a pack-of-five.
"I feel like we are back in the slow and delayed vaccine response that we were in nine months ago," he said.
"On the day COVID cases hit a record high, masks rules were also relaxed, it doesn't make any sense."
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