Demand for PCR tests has surged as families in the UAE make summer holiday plans and commuters adapt to tighter border rules for entry to Abu Dhabi.
Testing campaigns by employers to ensure workers are free of Covid-19 are also contributing to the rise.
The number of daily tests carried out at one centre in Al Ain has soared from about 650 to more than 1,000 following the Eid Al Adha break.
VPS Healthcare in Abu Dhabi also recorded increased demand in the post-holiday period.
As families go for annual holidays or travel home for the summer break, demand for pre-travel PCR tests has increased. Clinics are already bracing for an end of summer rush, when families return to the UAE and pupils will be tested before schools reopen.
As of July 19, anyone entering the capital must present a negative PCR test result received within 48 hours, or 24 hours for DPI tests, even if vaccinated.
Previously, those who had received both doses of a vaccine could travel to and from the capital for seven days after receiving a negative PCR test.
Testing rush was expected
“Considering the increase in demand for the tests, NMC Speciality Hospital at Al Ain has increased its lab capacity accordingly,” said Dr Iajaz Ahmed Hagalwadi, the hospital’s medical director.
“With the amendment of the rules by the government authorities we anticipated an increase in the number of screenings, so the hospital opened a new, exclusive and spacious tent for Covid-19 screening.
“We believe the trend will continue for some time, owing to increased awareness and regulatory mandates.”
The number of PCR tests conducted nationwide each day regularly exceeds 250,000.
Return to work contributes to testing demand
Regulatory screenings for workers mandated by the Department of Health in Abu Dhabi have also increased from 600 previously to 800 a day this week.
While large numbers of employees worked from home in the early months of the pandemic, many have since returned to workplaces.
Staff working in healthcare, the food production industry, hospitality and supermarkets are contributing to rising demand.
In March, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation announced unvaccinated workers employed by hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, laundries, beauty salons and hairdressers had to take PCR tests every 14 days.
Travellers aware of Covid-19 rules
“School vacations are another reason for the increase in testing, as UAE families are travelling back to their home countries to spend their holidays,” said Dr Hagalwadi.
“As per travel regulations, it is mandatory to have a negative Covid report less than 72 hours before flying to be eligible for travel.”
NMC Health said on-site company screening programmes had spiked from 400 to 650 tests a day as people returned to work.
Don't ignore symptoms even if PCR test is negative
Meanwhile, doctors said a new trend was emerging, of nasal swabs taken in some suspected Covid-19 positive patients, returning a negative result.
“We are seeing a phenomena now where the virus is not concentrated in the nose and as a result we are not seeing a positive test in a patient with symptoms in a first, second or even third PCR test,” said Dr Fadi Baladi, medical director at hospital group Burjeel.
"Patients think it is safe to return to work and no longer isolate after a negative test result, when in fact they are carrying the virus.
“A throat swab should be another consideration because, when the clinical picture suggests Covid, that has to be respected.
“If there is myalgia, fever and nothing else is fitting the symptoms except Covid, and the PCR is negative, wait and repeat the test. Do not accept the false feeling of safety.”
Recording a negative test, despite being infected with coronavirus is unusual but not unheard of.
In April 2020, Indian national Anu Mohanan, who lives in Sharjah, tested negative for 15 consecutive days despite showing severe symptoms of Covid-19.
Mr Mohanan spent 40 days at NMC Speciality Hospital, Al Nahda, Dubai - half that time in critical care - before finally being discharged in June.
Medics could not explain how repeated PCR tests came back negative, despite the obvious presence of the virus.
“It is hard to say why this is beginning to happen now,” said Dr Baladi.
“It is not a technique issue as the test is being done at the same centre, by the same competent people.
“One explanation is that the virus is more concentrated in the lower respiratory tract area, rather than in the upper area.
“Other swab tests taken from a blood sample can also be done to give a 100 per cent accurate diagnosis."