If you have been in contact with a COVID-positive person and feel no symptoms, the next likely available PCR test the local health authorities can offer is as late as Tuesday.
Even if you have symptoms, you will not get a PCR test for five days but the authorities could offer you a rapid antigen test tomorrow.
The health authorities are currently overwhelmed by the staggering number of requests for swab tests, following the highest spike in cases since the start of the virus pandemic.
Some claimed they called 111 for two days until they got through to book a test, only to realise the next available PCR test was not until well into next week.
Others said they were given appointments for the end of January while some said they spent hundreds of euros to test the entire family privately.
Multiple failed attempts to get through
Times of Malta journalists called 111 multiple times on Monday and Tuesday, at different times of the day, and the claims of delays were proven correct.
After several attempts, the line went dead.
The only successful attempt was on Tuesday afternoon after 23 minutes on hold, though the operator at the other end eventually was helpful and courteous.
“Next available PCR if you don’t have symptoms is for Tuesday, January 4,” he said.
Times of Malta could not confirm claims that appointments are being scheduled for the end of January and, in its reply to questions, the health ministry said 5,000 swabs are currently being performed daily and more appointments have been added this week due to increased demand.
“In Gozo, the next available appointment is within 24 hours.”
How much does it cost to test privately?
Meanwhile, private testing is mushrooming in pharmacies all over the country. The cheapest bargain Times of Malta could find was €20 for a rapid antigen test and €70 for a PCR. But prices have now climbed up to €140 for a PCR test at a number of private pharmacies and hospitals.
Malta registered a record 1,298 new cases on Tuesday. The rising positive cases, however, are not solely responsible for the exponential demand for swab tests, according to the ministry.
People are requesting “a swab for other purposes, such as travelling and the early release from quarantine for vaccinated persons”.
It also said that it has increased vaccination rates to address the issue.
However, the ministry avoided questions about the possibility of introducing home swabbing test kits like other countries and on whether there are plans to scrap contact tracing altogether.
Last week, South Africa announced it will end contact tracing and quarantines for asymptomatic COVID-positive people.
The government said the Omicron variant spread so rapidly that contact tracing will be futile.
It did, however, push booster shots, mask mandates and social distancing.