Two million Covid-19 tests and counting: what the UAE's mass testing campaign means for the future

The nation has carried out the highest number of coronavirus tests per capita in the world

Members of an Indian medical team register for testing upon their arrival at Dubai International Airport on May 9, 2020, to help with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  / AFP / Karim SAHIB
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Yesterday, the UAE reached a pivotal milestone in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The government has announced that health authorities conducted more than 2 million tests since the outbreak started, making the UAE the nation that has carried out the highest number of coronavirus tests per capita in the world.

The coronavirus has infected more than 5.5 million people worldwide, killing more than 350,000 people. To halt its spread, the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has advised countries to “test, test, test” and for hygiene and physical distancing measures to be enforced to minimise the probability of infection.

With more than 40,000 additional tests announced daily, the UAE had opted for a mass testing strategy, in line with WHO guidelines, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Abu Dhabi and Dubai have set up drive-through testing facilities to encourage as many people as possible to find out if they have caught the virus, a method first developed in South Korea, where cases have significantly dropped since the outbreak first started.

The government has set up dedicated testing and quarantine facilities in at-risk neighbourhoods, such as Abu Dhabi’s Mussafah area, an industrial zone that is also home to many low-income workers, in addition to cordoning off neighbourhoods where infections have been particularly high, such as in Dubai’s Gold Souk. The Dubai Government has also said that a 3,000-bed field hospital at the World Trade Centre and a 1,200-bed centre at Dubai Parks and Resorts have been deployed to handle any overflow of cases. These initiatives have allowed some control over the outbreak, and are paving the way for a partial reopening of the economy.

In Dubai, restrictions will be relaxed starting Wednesday, allowing for people to go about their business outside their homes until 11 pm. Gyms and cinemas will be able to reopen and non-essential medical services will be allowed once more. These new freedoms are, however, subject to people respecting new rules. Physical distancing, wearing masks in public and sanitising one’s hands frequently is still an absolute necessity.

There is only so much authorities can do to protect their people if citizens and residents do not abide by the new safety rules of the coronavirus era.

The UAE has carried out the highest number of coronavirus tests per capita in the world

If the world is to find a semblance of normalcy during this pandemic, we must remember that “everyone is responsible", in the words of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai. Authorities have a significant role to play in imposing and enforcing public health policies to protect the population, but it is the individuals who have the power to make this drive a success or break it apart.

Simple precautions such as wearing face masks outside, washing one’s hands frequently and avoiding touching one’s face, can help us protect one another, and gain back some of the freedoms and economic benefits that we have lost to the coronavirus pandemic.