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Coronavirus tests
Photograph: Creative Commons

What it feels like to get tested for coronavirus in Australia

Yeah, they jam that swab pretty far into your nose.

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Yesterday, I woke up with a sore throat. It was a mild sore throat, of the type you could pick up anywhere. In the Beforetime, I would not have thought much about such a common and irritating symptom, and I would have gone to work. 

This is not the Beforetime. I haven't been to work in more than a month. Or anywhere else, for that matter, except the park for a quick walk and to the supermarket to pick up necessities. I've been wearing gloves to the shops, washing my hands thoroughly as soon as I walk through my door and disinfecting everything I buy. Nevertheless, I picked up something, somewhere. 

This morning, the sore throat had a companion: a persistent cough. Again, it isn't very severe. But Victorians with symptoms including shortness of breath, fever, sore throat and cough are now advised to get tested for Covid-19. I rang the national coronavirus helpline, and after I went through my symptoms, I was advised to call my GP. The doctor recommended I be tested for the virus, and he told me where the nearest screening centre was. He also told me to wear a mask out in public, and to drive myself to the centre and back again, to minimise putting others at risk. I fashioned a mask out of a bandana and headed off, feeling a bit like a coughing gunslinger.

The centre had a long marquee out the front for patients to wait, but I was lucky that at the time I arrived no one was in the queue. A medical professional in full protective gear gave me hand sanitiser and asked about my symptoms, then sent me inside to see the doctor. I was admitted immediately, and the doctor prepared the frighteningly long swab. He said he himself had undergone two of these tests, courtesy of two common colds, and that yes, it was uncomfortable, but that the test would be over quickly. I removed the mask, and he stuck the swab up my nose. I held my breath, waiting for the "stabbing my brain" or "making me see stars" feeling described by others, but it never came. After a very slight discomfort in my nasal passages, the doctor withdrew the swab, then put it in my mouth to get at the back of my throat. That part was even less uncomfortable, just a bit dry and scratchy, and then it was over. 

I was in and out of the clinic in ten minutes, with most of that time being spent trying to give the receptionist my details through my improvised mask. Then came the very uncomfortable part, as I was not allowed to leave my premises at all until I got a text message giving me the all clear, or a phone call with news that the test was positive, as well as advice for next steps.

The doctor estimated the test results would come in two to three days, but 12 hours later I had a text message confirming that I don't have the virus. News stories abound all over the world about inadequate testing and the nightmare of a broken system, but here in Australia the process was, like the test itself, virtually painless.

Feeling unwell? All Victorians with symptoms are being urged to get tested for coronavirus. In any of these Sydney suburbs? You can get tested too.

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