Blue collar workers are increasingly turning to low-cost clinics to be treated for fevers and coughs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Medics say the rise in number of patients indicates increased awareness about Covid-19 among labourers who previously rarely saw doctors for colds but are taking more precautions now.
Dr Sanjay Paithankar, who runs 58 low-cost medical facilities across the country, said he is seeing almost a third more patients than usual.
“It’s the fear in their mind that brings them to us to check if they have corona,” said Dr Paithankar, head of the Right Health group.
Doctors at clinics based within walking distance of labour accommodations have been treating more than 4,000 workers daily.
“There is about a 30 per cent increase in patients,” said Dr Paithankar.
“It is important these workers are reporting symptoms because if there is a coronavirus case we will catch it early. Most of these workers have no contact with tourists which is how the first cases were imported into Dubai.”
It has been more than two months since a Chinese family visiting Dubai from Wuhan became the country's first cases of the virus.
Since then, more than 2,000 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in the UAE, including more than 125 recoveries and 11 deaths.
Workers said it was a relief to speak to a doctor.
“Before, I would only come to the clinic if I had a fever for three or four days but now I don’t want corona,” said Syed Hussain, a welder from Bangladesh.
“My friends said not to wait until the fever went too high.”
Doctors have referred a few patients to government facilities to be tested for Covid-19 but none had tested positive, Dr Paithankar said.
Throat and nasal swabs to detect coronavirus are conducted in government clinics and designated private hospitals.
Health authorities have explained that not everyone with a fever and cold will be tested for Covid-19, advising members of the public to call ahead and stay home whenever possible.
As a result, doctors in private clinics say they have had fewer patients.
“Previously, patients would come in a panicked state because they had a cough and cold but now there is an understanding that they don’t need to come in unless the symptoms worsen,” said Dr Faisal Hamza Dalvi, an internal medicine specialist at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
Numbers have halved from their usual 40 patients a day per doctor.
Tests are administered if, in addition to fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing, the patient has had direct exposure to a coronavirus patient or visited a country with a local outbreak.
“We still have to explain that we don’t do the tests for everyone,” Dr Dalvi said.
Patients with a fever are segregated in waiting sections away from those who come in with other complaints.
Nasal and throat swab tests are administered in isolation rooms with staff wearing protective gear.
As per health ministry guidelines, hospitals have set up isolation units in the emergency area and other departments.
“Before we would check the throat of a patient with fever in consulting rooms because there was no scare about the coronavirus but, for more than a month now, we have been seeing them separately,” Dr Dalvi said.
“We have reshuffled our clinics to create more special isolation rooms.”
Dr Henry Galuba Jr, an internal medicine specialist in Zulekha Hospital in Dubai, said patients who are tested for Covid-19 are placed in isolation until the result becomes available.
“We don’t do a Covid-19 test as an outpatient, the person will be admitted and needs to remain in isolation in hospital until the result is out,” he said.
Authorities banned all elective procedures, which freed up hospital beds.
“The main purpose of reducing elective surgery has been achieved. There should be enough beds in case a large number of people contract Covid-19,” Dr Galuba Jr said.
“This contingency plan is a very good one so resources are not overwhelmed.”
What to do if you're worried you have Covid-19
High fever, dry cough, body ache that is common for most cases of flu
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing in addition to other symptoms
Call Ministry of Health or Dubai Health Authority line - 800342
Doctors will ask if the patient has been exposed to a family member or colleague who tested positive
Nurses check if the person recently returned from travel overseas to countries including China, Italy listed by UAE health authorities
Patients who enter a hospital should immediately let medical staff know if a friend or colleague has tested positive
The doctor will take a call about whether to test for Covid-19 or not
- Dr Rajeshwari Patil, microbiology specialist at Medeor Hospital in Abu Dhabi