In response, the state government extended the deadline for people to get tested from 3pm Friday to midnight Saturday.
WA has welcomed 4901 people from NSW between December 11 and 17, with 87 arriving from Sydney’s northern beaches, where the latest outbreak occurred.
WA’s COVID clinics typically test about 700 people per day.
On Thursday, that number rose to 1936 – 522 of those tested at Perth Airport upon arrival.
Opposition leader Zak Kirkup said the state government had “the better part of a year” to prepare for a testing surge.
“We know that testing is the first line of defence against a COVID outbreak,” he said.
“To see people turned away from our COVID clinics yesterday because there wasn’t the capacity to test each and every person in the required time shows that we simply weren’t ready.
“We would hope that WA, after all this time, after all the heavy lifting that West Australians have done, that we would have been better prepared to deal with any possible surge in testing that is required.”
Mr McGowan acknowledged the sudden change in WA’s border policy had created long lines at testing clinics and asked for patience.
“Whilst I understand it’s difficult for people waiting in line and they don’t want to be doing that – it’s a very annoying thing to have to go through – we do actually have significant resources devoted and we’re doing thousands of tests on a daily basis,” he said.
On Friday, people arrived with eskies and camping chairs, better prepared for what could again be a long wait.
Health Minister Roger Cook said COVID clinic opening hours had been extended and private pathology clinics were also accepting people from NSW for free testing without the need for a referral.
He said test results would be returned as soon as possible to prevent people having to self-isolate for long periods of time, but refused to commit to a timeframe of within 48 hours.
“I know of people who were tested yesterday and have already received their results this morning,” Mr Cook said.
“Obviously as the numbers scale up, there may be a bit of a longer wait but as you’ve seen the department has responded really well, I believe, to the new requirements making sure we have more staff on deck to do more testing, making sure our clinics stay open and obviously at PathWest they’re working day and night at the moment to process these swabs to make sure we get the results as quickly as possible.”
Following an outbreak in South Australia in mid-November which led to long lines outside Adelaide testing clinics as more than 10,000 people were tested a day, Mr Cook reassured the community WA was prepared to deal with a similar situation.
“We can flex our COVID clinics up to make sure they are open longer and have extra capacity,” he said at the time.
“In addition to that we have our friends in the private sector who could then take some of the spill-over.”
Opening times for COVID clinics at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital have been extended from 8am to 8pm until Sunday.
Joondalup Hospital will stay open until 10pm Friday and then until 8pm through to Sunday.
Other clinics at Armadale, Rockingham and Midland hospitals are open 8am to 6pm.
Heather McNeill is a senior journalist at WAtoday.
Peter de Kruijff is a journalist with WAtoday.