HUNDREDS of people waited for hours, and many more had to return the following day, after Bendigo Health's COVID-19 screening clinic was slammed by demand.
Staff had tested about 100 people by early afternoon on New Year's Day, but had about 300 more people waiting in a queue that stretched around the block.
Plans to close the walk-in clinic at 2pm were scrapped. Those waiting at the end of the line were advised they might not be seen by 5.30pm, when the clinic had to close.
Neither the drive-through clinic nor the Spring Gully Respiratory Clinic were open.
Pressure on testing was exceptionally high statewide as the closure of Victoria's border with New South Wales loomed, and the list of exposure sites for Victoria's virus outbreak grew.
The Department of Health and Human Services said it was working hard to increase testing site capacity and manage demand.
Bendigo Health brought in extra staff to help with the workload. More than 150 people were tested by the day's end.
The Bendigo Advertiser understands some people who had been waiting for about five hours were turned away.
People came to Bendigo from throughout the region for testing, saying options elsewhere were either at capacity or shut.
Some people took the opportunity to isolate overnight and return in the morning when the drive-through clinic opened.
"This is ridiculous," Swan Hill resident Nathan Condely said.
While he said Bendigo Health staff had been helpful, he was frustrated by what he described as disorganisation on the part of the Victorian government.
"They should have opened up all testing across the state," Mr Condely said.
He was among many travellers who had rushed to make it across the border from New South Wales on Thursday night.
As it happened:
More than 150 people were tested at Bendigo Health's walk-in COVID-19 screening clinic on New Year's Day.
Some had no complaints, despite waiting for hours for testing.
"They're doing the best they can... it's got to be done," one couple said.
Others had questions about the arrangements.
"It seems obvious the system's going to be overwhelmed," Jenni Hodgman said.
She and Jon Merlin drove through the night with 11-month old Heidi to make it back before the border closed.
They had been visiting family in New South Wales for Christmas - the first time Heidi had an opportunity to meet some of her relatives interstate.
Mr Merlin said he had been calling around about testing sites earlier in the morning, but found the nearest one to the pair's Tylden home was already at capacity. So they headed to Bendigo.
Bendigo couple Damon and Lynne Cathcart said they had found it challenging getting updates on the situation in Victoria while in New South Wales.
They were barely halfway through a holiday when they heard Victoria was closing its border and made their way home.
The queue at the screening clinic was already at the corner of Stewart and Arnold streets when they arrived, circa 11:15am on Friday.
But they persevered. The Cathcarts felt for families with small children who were waiting.
Darren Chambers, Erin Cooper, and Jye and Jazz Chambers also joined the queue for screening when it was at the street corner.
The Kyneton family opted to head to Bendigo for testing. They would otherwise have had to go to Melbourne, as there didn't seem to be an option closer to home.
"It is what it is, we just have to do it," they said.
Both the drive-through and walk-in screening clinics at Bendigo Health will be open on Saturday between 10am and 5.30pm.
Further testing information is available here.
Families who have waited about five hours for testing are believed to have been turned away from Bendigo Health's walk-in testing clinic.
Bendigo couple Janelle and Darren Kelly spent all of two hours at their accommodation in Canberra before being made aware Victoria was closing its border with New South Wales.
They had previously been holidaying in a green zone in New South Wales.
The Kellys sought clarification on when they had to head home, but found it difficult to get reliable information from authorities including police in Victoria.
"Everyone was as confused as us," Ms Kelly said.
Calls to Victoria's coronavirus hotline shortly after the border closure was announced went unanswered.
Ms Kelly said the Victorian government's website hadn't been updated with the latest information.
The family decided to cut their holiday short and head for home.
The Kellys crossed the Victorian border at Albury Wodonga on Thursday night.
The queue for COVID-19 testing in Bendigo was already around the block, and had been for some time, when they joined.
They were ahead of the point in the queue that was advised of a four-hour wait for testing, which could mean they would not be seen before the clinic closed, around 1.30pm.
Jan Claridge, Ms Kelly's mother, believed the government should have opened up more testing places when it decided to close its border with New South Wales.
She had been concerned for her daughter since the border closure was announced, and said there had been many in the Kellys' position.
"I spent a fairly stressful time worrying about them on the road and trying to work out what the regulations actually were," Ms Claridge said.
The Department of Health and Human Services says it is working hard to increase testing site capacity.
It comes as Victorian testing centres, including Bendigo Health's walk-in screening clinic, contend with high demand.
Bendigo Health's clinic has been overwhelmed, with hundreds of people seeking testing.
Many travellers abiding by the Victorian government's advice to come home from New South Wales have been faced with hours of queuing, or isolating overnight and returning on Saturday for testing.
"We thank everyone for turning out and getting tested today and appreciate people's patience with any delays encountered," a department spokesperson said.
They listed pop-up sites, putting on more staff and extending hours at fixed testing sites among the strategies to manage increased demand on testing sites, statewide.
"Work is continuing between our Rapid Response teams and testing partners to set up even more temporary pop-up testing locations to meet demand and alleviate pressure points," the spokesperson said.
Responses are still being sought to questions specific to Bendigo's situation.
Demand for testing at Bendigo on Friday is understood to have been underestimated, despite the impending closure of Victoria's border with NSW and the government's call on people to get tested in relation to the Victorian cluster.
We’re currently experiencing a very high number of calls to the hotline. We understand that this is a stressful situation and we apologise for delays. If you are calling for advice about NSW border closures and today's new restrictions, see here: https://t.co/6fCYCyu2CSpic.twitter.com/NAMXzgZNVU— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) December 31, 2020
The Department of Health and Human Services last night reported a "very high" number of calls to the state's coronavirus hotline.
"We understand this is a stressful situation and we apologise for delays," it said in a social media statement.
The post directed people calling for advice about border closures and new restrictions to the Victorian coronavirus website.
Elsewhere in the region, Echuca Regional Health is conducting COVID-19 tests until 6pm on Friday, and between 10am and 6pm on Saturday.
There are no screening clinics open in Castlemaine, Maryborough or Kyneton on Friday.
People at the end of the queue for Bendigo Health's COVID-19 screening clinic currently face a four-hour wait.
The clinic was originally due to close at 2pm, but it will remain open until 5.30pm.
People towards the end of the queue have been advised of the wait and offered the option of going home, isolating and presenting for testing again in the morning when the drive-through clinic is also open.
At 1.45pm, the clinic had tested about 100 people and about 300 people were waiting to be tested.
A pop-up clinic flagged earlier in the day will not proceed.
The drive-through clinic and Spring Gully Respiratory Clinic, which runs by appointment only, are closed.
A woman waiting in the queue at Bendigo Health, aged in her 70s, said the conditions were barbaric.
She twice asked for water while standing alone in the queue and was told there was none available.
"It's not good enough," the woman said.
A family member drove from Maiden Gully to the testing line to assist.
The family member expressed disappointment at the conditions.
A large number of people are lining up to get a COVID-19 test in Bendigo, with the Victorian government now requiring newly returned travellers from NSW to be screened.
Shortly after noon on Friday, the queue for Bendigo Health's screening clinic in Stewart Street stretched around the block.
The organisation's drive-through clinic is closed on New Year's Day and according to the most recently available information, the walk-in clinic is open from 10am to 2pm.
However, it is understood a pop-up clinic is being organised.
New government rules, announced on New Year's Eve, say anyone who returned to Victoria from a NSW 'green zone' (outside Greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Wollongong or the Blue Mountains) before 11.59pm on Thursday, December 31 must undergo a test and self-isolate at home until they receive a negative result.
Those who were in Wollongong or the Blue Mountains and returned to Victoria by that time must also undergo a test, but have to quarantine at home for 14 days, even if they receive a negative result.
After 11.59pm on New Year's Eve, travellers from Wollongong or the Blue Mountains were banned from entering Victoria.
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Only those who have been to 'green zone' regional NSW are now permitted back in the state - but only until 11.59pm on January 1, when the hard border closes.
Those who come into Victoria from regional NSW on New Year's Day must get tested and quarantine at home for 14 days.
From midnight, only those in designated border communities will be permitted to cross the border.
People who had been to Greater Sydney or the Central Coast were banned from entering the state on December 21.