Long queues of cars outside drive-thru Covid-19 screening centres have become commonplace in recent days as UAE residents grapple with post-holiday virus blues.
Officials at private testing centres and hospitals have confirmed a surge in demand for testing following stricter workplace regulations and post-travel testing.
The majority of those testing are returning from their home countries, and the surge has trebled considerably since January 2, said VPS Healthcare. The turnaround time for test results in some laboratories has increased slightly. However, centres and hospitals work round-the-clock to provide the results within 24 hours.
Max Stevenson, a resident, living in Dubai Marina, said he had to wait for an hour outside a drive-thru testing centre near the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club for nearly an hour and a half on January 1.
"I got tested as a precautionary measure since the Christmas and New Year's Eve events I attended had attendance who tested positive. The last time I tested at the same venue, the entire process did not take more than 30 minutes," said Stevenson. Fortunately, his test results returned negative.
Mayur Sabhani, the group director of laboratory services at VPS Healthcare, confirmed that the group's centralised Covid-19 testing lab has seen a two-fold increase in daily testing since the government's new preventive measures.
"This demand is triggered by tourists visiting the country to celebrate the new year and returning residents with the start of the academic term. We expect the tests to go up further, and more people opt to screen themselves irrespective of vaccination status," said Sabhani.
The healthcare group also said it is geared up to meet increased demand. "The lab at Burjeel Medical City alone can conduct more than 10,000 tests per day. So far, we have done two million tests since the onset of the pandemic. This includes normal PCR tests, rapid PCR tests, and saliva tests for students," said Sabhani.
On Monday, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention reported 2,515 cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus, 862 recoveries and one death. The new cases were detected through 371,384 additional tests.
Dr Naveen Tiwari, specialist clinical pathology at the NMC Royal Hospital in Dubai Investment Park, Dubai, also said the group has observed a sudden surge in RT-PCR testing. "The numbers have increased three folds in the last couple of days. One of the reasons could be the New Year's Eve celebrations. Observing the surge in the infection rates, people may want to be safe and secure about their health," explained Dr Tiwari.
Most of those testing at NMC Group are white-collared workers such as staff engineers, bank managers, and supervisory levels. About 20 per cent of those testing are travellers.
Meanwhile, Sabhani said though the waiting time has gone up compared to before, it needs to be acknowledged that UAE is the only country globally where most tests are being reported within 24 hours for everyone.
"The regulatory bodies are closely monitoring all providers, even on the speed with which the status updates happen on Al Hosn given its requirement for movement between Emirates. Even rapid tests - less than 12 hours - are being offered to meet specific turnaround time demands," he added.
NMC Healthcare, for example, is trying to cope up with the increasing demand for RT-PCR tests and have deployed additional staff for drive-through and walk-in sample collections. "The present-day average of sample collection has gone to 4,500 - 5,000 tests," said Dr Tiwari.
Dr Fouad Al Rahal, a specialist in emergency medicine at Bareen International Hospital at Mohammed Bin Zayed City Hospital, said, "Nowadays, many people are sick probably due to the seasonal flu. Overseas travellers are testing as per protocol, and blue-collared workers are also required to undergo testing."
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