This Instagram account wanted to help people get into Sydney clubs. Now, it’s helping them find RATs

Josh Stewart and his friends started the @bondi_lines Instagram page to help Sydneysiders enjoy the city's nightlife. Now, its focus has changed. Source: Supplied

The Instagram account was set up to give its followers real-time updates on how long they'd have to wait to get into Sydney clubs and bars. Now, it's helping people find rapid antigen tests and short PCR testing queues.

At the tail end of last year’s Delta wave, Josh Stewart and two friends created the Instagram account @bondi_lines hoping to inject life back into the city, and help counter “Sydney’s bad rap” when it comes to nightlife.

For those who have just turned 18, new Sydney residents or locals who wanted to know how venues were operating under COVID-19 restrictions, the account wanted to help you have a good night. 

“Quiet,” “popping,” “old, dinner vibe” are some of the public service announcements they'd make to their then-7,000 followers. And as the name suggests, they'd also share real-time updates and pictures on how long the lines were at Sydney’s most popular bars and clubs.

Now, with 42,000 followers, their focus has pivoted to helping people in Sydney find PCR and rapid antigen tests (RATs) by posting information on wait times and stock to their Instagram stories. 

The Instagram account @bondilines posts PCR COVID-19 testing wait times and RAT availability to their stories.
The Instagram account @bondilines posts PCR COVID-19 testing wait times and RAT availability to their stories.
Instagram/@bondilnes

“Simon Marnie on the ABC said something like a listener called to ask NSW Health [about availability] and NSW said to check Bondi lines, which is insanity,” Josh told The Feed.

“It’s absolutely bizarre.”

Josh said the account received multiple messages from locals offering updates from PCR testing lines before they decided to divert their focus, noticing an appetite for the information. 

It’s become a full-time gig for the team of three, with Josh accommodating the long hours during his annual leave from a job in finance. The others in the crew, who work in recruitment and construction, have also moved shifts around to keep up.

“People are grateful because we've found there's a genuine void in information on COVID related stuff,” said the 25-year-old from Sydney.

“The community response has been insanely positive. People appreciate it's ad hoc and that we're just doing our best.”

RAT 'giveaway' and persisting shortage

Australians are still desperately searching for RATs after several weeks of a widespread shortage. Even big sellers regularly replenishing stock are reporting supply selling out within minutes. 

In one recent instance, a small candle-making business offered a RAT in a giveaway to its Instagram followers, which social media users deemed a sign of how coveted the item has become. 

“Tag someone with COVID - you and your friend will go in the draw to win a RAT …” the caption read.

Community initiatives like @bondi_lines have cropped up in recent weeks to help disseminate information on stock and wait times, including Find a RAT and covidtestfinder.com.au. 

Josh said while lines for PCR tests have quietened down since the NSW government announced positive RATs could be reported through the ServiceNSW app to diagnose cases - RATs remain scarce and in high demand. 

RATs have been recommended by state and federal health authorities as a preferable alternative to PCR tests after testing centres and laboratories were overwhelmed by the surge in Omicron cases.

In recent days, pharmacists have also voiced concerns about how they will be able to supply free RATs to lower-income Australians under the national concession card scheme after the federal government asked them to procure stock independently.

As for @bondi_lines, the friends will continue to offer COVID-related information while they can, and on Fridays and Saturdays, they said followers can still expect bar and club updates.

With no dancing currently permitted at venues in NSW under COVID-19 restrictions, Josh told The Feed the nightlife scene has lulled a little, but for his new and loyal followers, he had one message: “The second dance is back, we will flick a switch and give you updates on the vibes again.”

“We want to give you that colour that you can’t automate.”