Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy, has implored doctors for their help in a letter describing “extreme pressure” on personal protective equipment and Covid-19 testing kits.

The letter, sent to all general practitioners on Friday said: “There is a particular issue I want to write to you about directly, to ask for your help.”

“Unfortunately, the extreme pressure on our personal protective equipment stocks continues, and the situation regarding pathology test kits, reagents and swabs is deteriorating rapidly, with kits no longer being available in some regions of the country,” Murphy wrote.

“Pathology collection centres have also experienced large backlogs in testing appointments in some parts of Australia, and emergency testing facilities have had to be established in some areas to ensure that urgent patients can get access to testing.”

As Australians rush to get tested, many people are being tested unnecessarily putting pressure on already stretched medical supplies. In the letter Murphy urges doctors to adhere to testing guidelines, and to make sure patients meet both the current epidemiological and clinical criteria for testing.

Only people who travelled internationally in the 14 days before illness onset or who had close or casual contact in the 14 days before illness onset with a confirmed case of Covid-19, and also have a fever or acute respiratory infection need to be tested.

People with severe pneumonia with or without recent international travel are also classified as a suspect case requiring testing.

The head of the Australian Medical Association Dr Tony Bartone urged Australians to take some personal responsibility and to stop pushing doctors for Covid-19 testing unless they met the criteria or were severely unwell.

We are really running out and it undermines the ability to identify true cases. We can’t just be testing to relieve anxiety.Tony Bartone

“It’s clear that there is a significant amount of people who are being tested at the moment for no other reason than just fear, anxiety or personal interest,” Bartone told Guardian Australia.

“The criteria that have been clearly outlined in the letter are in the interest of ensuring adequate supply at this crucial time while we’re facing a significant pressure on reagents and kits.Advertisement

“We are really running out and it undermines the ability to identify true cases. We can’t just be testing to relieve anxiety. We can’t just be relieving anxiety in a population with no contact with a confirmed case.”

Bartone said the rush to hospitals and doctor clinics for testing was an extension of panic buying being seen in supermarkets. He urged people to think of vulnerable people including the elderly before asking for tests.

“This is a self-limiting condition. For a small minority it will have significant consequences and unfortunately many Australians will lose their lives. We need to make sure resources are allocated appropriately to minimise risk to communities as a whole. The more irresponsible we are the more likely we are to see an earlier onset and peak.”

On Saturday Murphy said during a press conference there had “been quite a run on the testing and we had some temporary shortages in testing materials”.

“I do want to emphasise that we are still saying, because community transmission is so low at the moment, that we are focusing our testing on returned travellers or contacts of people who are symptomatic,” he said. “We don’t want people with an ordinary mild cold in Australia to go and get tested. We need to preserve the testing for those who need it.”

The federal health department has published an updated fact sheet for the public about the virus.

President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Dr Harry Nespolon, said countries where the tests originated from, including Italy, “are keeping their tests”.

“All the countries are in short supply for their own populations,” he said. “So yes, we are going to run into problems if we have low-threshold testing.”



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