Lengthy queues at UAE's Covid screening sites as demand soars

Number of PCR tests treble in some centres as workplace rules are made stricter and final preparations ramp up for New Year celebrations

Motorists queue at a drive-through Covid-19 testing facility at City Walk, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Demand for PCR testing has trebled in some screening centres in recent days, following stricter workplace regulations and ahead of New Year celebrations.

A surge in testing has seen lengthy queues at test sites and clinics in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Changes in requirements for access to Abu Dhabi and venues across the country and travel over the festive period are said to be partly behind increased demand.

And Abu Dhabi government employees are now required to take weekly PCR tests to screen for Covid-19, as cases surge globally due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

On Thursday, 425,682 tests were recorded for the 24-hour reporting period – one of the highest figures to date. The number of new cases was 2,366, the highest since March 2021.

We are trying to cope up with increasing demand and have deployed additional staff for drive-through and walk in sample collections
Dr Naveen Tiwari, NMC Royal Hospital

“We have observed a sudden surge in RT-PCR testing, with the numbers increasing three-fold in last couple of days,” said Dr Naveen Tiwari, a specialist in clinical pathology at NMC Royal Hospital in Dubai.

“One of the reasons could be the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“Observing the surge in the infection rates, people may be wanting themselves to be safe and secure about their health.

“We are trying to cope up with increasing demand and have deployed additional staff for drive-through and walk in sample collections.”

NMC centres across the country are together conducting about 5,000 tests a day, mostly for white-collar workers like engineers, banking staff and supervisors, the healthcare provider said.

Around 20 per cent of all those asking for PCR tests are about to travel overseas and require a negative test prior to departure.

Another major provider, VPS Healthcare, said it had also seen soaring demand for PCR tests in recent days.

The firm’s testing lab at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi has a capacity to conduct more than 10,000 tests a day. Since the onset of the pandemic, the lab has processed more than two million tests.

That includes standard PCR and rapid PCR tests, as well as saliva tests for pupils.

Rapid tests are becoming more popular for those needing a quick turnaround to travel or attend events that now require proof of a negative status.

Tests to attend concerts and public events

Capacity for New Year’s Eve celebrations will be scaled back to 80 per cent capacity, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority has said.

Guidelines announced by the authority for attending New Year’s Eve events include a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of attending an event.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism has reduced capacity for New Year celebrations to 60 per cent, due to rising infections of Covid-19.

Guidelines sent to hotels, venue owners and tourism establishments planning New Year events say guests must have Green Pass status on the Al Hosn app to show they have been vaccinated and had a recent PCR test, or present a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours.

Visitors heading to Expo 2020 to see in the New Year must also present proof of vaccination or a negative PCR result for a test conducted within 72 hours.

“Our centralised Covid-19 testing lab has seen a two-fold increase in daily testing with the new preventive measures in place,” said Mayur Sabhani, group director of laboratory services at VPS Healthcare.

“This covers general screening and people visiting the hospital.”

More than 107 million tests have been carried out in the UAE since the outbreak began, as part of a comprehensive screening strategy to tackle the virus.

Unvaccinated people wishing to visit Abu Dhabi must now present a negative PCR test received within 96 hours at the border checkpoint in Ghantoot.

Those already vaccinated are required to show their Al Hosn green pass at the entry point into the capital.

Cases have steadily risen throughout December, with the UAE recording the highest daily tally of infections for more than nine months on Thursday.

The Emirates recorded 2,366 cases of Covid-19, up from just 200 daily infections on December 16.

So far, 759,511 cases have been reported in the UAE in total, with 744,180 recoveries and 2,162 deaths.

Demand for testing is likely to continue, meaning detection will also rise, experts said.

“We are expecting that tests will go up further and more people opt to screen themselves irrespective of vaccination status,” said Mr Sabhani.

“We are geared up to meet this increased demand.”

Updated: December 31st 2021, 7:34 AM