Abu Dhabi: In an unmistakeable gesture of solidarity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, residents across Abu Dhabi have been helping one another to avail free PCR screenings in their neighbourhoods.
The free tests are conducted on a daily basis as part of Abu Dhabi’s mass screening programme, which was first launched in June 2020 by the health sector regulator, the Department of Health (DoH). Because the tests cover homes and offices in different localities, residents soon took to informing one another of screenings available in their vicinities.
Social media groups
Over time, they also began sharing the information on social media groups. On Facebook in particular, the initiative took on a life of its own. In addition to posts on existing community forums, enterprising residents set up dedicated groups to share information about where the tests were currently ongoing.
This has been particularly useful for many, because Abu Dhabi has in place strict regulations regarding COVID-19 screenings. These regulations will have to be adhered to in order to enter the emirate, enter all its schools and many government buildings, and to access many events. Workers in vital sectors and service industries also need to undergo PCR tests every seven days. There are strict penalties in place for those who violate these regulations.
While the tests conducted as part of Abu Dhabi’s widespread screening programme are free for all, a PCR test at a health facility costs at least Dh65 per person, and this is where the Facebook groups come in handy.
Accessible PCR tests
“The authorities in Abu Dhabi are doing such a good job of ensuring that residents remain as safe as possible. These mass screenings are a key example of this because they allow even the most cash-strapped people to ensure that they are safe,” Tauhida Ashraf, 32, a sales coordinator from Bangladesh, told Gulf News.
So far, Ashraf has used Facebook groups three times to find testing locations. Each time, she said the process has been quick and easy. Most recently, she needed to get tested after travelling to Dubai, because Abu Dhabi regulations stipulate that anyone continuing to stay on in the emirate after travel must be tested on two specified dates post-arrival — on Days 4 and 8, if a PCR test result was used to enter the emirate; and on Days 3 and 7 if a DPI test was conducted.
“I used a Facebook group to find out where the test was being conducted. A Facebook user had said they were being conducted at a residential building on Muroor Road. So I drove down and soon saw the queue of masked people waiting for their turn. Because women are given priority, it took me just five minutes to get the test done. I had my COVID-19 negative result on Al Hosn app within 24 hours,” Ashraf explained.
Adhering to the rules
Carla Reed, 29, another expat from Lebanon, said she had recently become aware of the dedicated COVID-19 testing groups on Facebook.
“I needed to get my Day 4 COVID-19 test after travelling to Dubai. I was going to head to a hospital, but my friend told me there was a way to easily and legally get the test done free of charge. I found a residential building on Airport Road where the tests were being offered, and I was done within minutes,” Reed said.
“I need to get another COVID-19 test on Day 8, and I plan to do it in the same manner,” she added.
Easy to spot
It is easy to spot buildings and establishments where COVID-19 screenings are being offered. There is usually a queue of masked residents, each waiting while maintaining adequate social distancing. At the top of the line, a few PPE-clad healthcare professionals have set up a table or two, along with containers carrying medical equipment for the PCR swabs.
Aushesh Kumar, 38, a sales executive from India, said he had availed of the free PCR tests five times till date.
“I believe this is a privilege offered by Abu Dhabi authorities to residents. It not only helps us to make sure we following all COVID-19 testing regulations, but also helps keeps us safe. My job requires that I get tested every seven days, and these free tests have been a boon,” he said.
Abu Dhabi’s mass screening campaign covers a number of localities every single day, and residents are only too happy to share the information with one another.
Freya Jaffar, founder and administrator of popular Facebook community — Abu Dhabi Q&A — said her group sees multiple posts every single day, even though, unlike some of the other groups, it is not dedicated solely to COVID-19 testing info.
“We have more than 61,000 members, and there are multiple posts detailing locations where free COVID-19 testing is available for the day. A while ago, I simply tacked a permanent and easily visible post at the top of the group where members can add PCR testing location information for others,” she said.
“These free tests are a definite way to encourage testing by the authorities, and they motivate everyone to keep safe,” she added.
Many reasons for testing
There are a variety of reasons why residents avail of the tests: Either they are part of the building or establishment marked out for the day’s COVID-19 screening by the authorities, or they need to undertake the tests in keeping with Abu Dhabi’s travel, work and health-related COVID-19 regulations. Others also avail of the free screenings to simply keep safe.
One resident who has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 said she had taken free PCR tests on three separate instances, using information about testing locations from a Facebook group. “Each time, I was worried that I had come into contact with a COVID-19 patient, and I got the test done. Fortunately, I was negative each time,” she said.
Mohammad Z, a 64-year-old business owner, said he planned to avail of a free PCR-test soon. “I have been tested twice at my own home, and as a senior resident, I have also been able to avail of two free PCR tests at screening centres in the emirate. This is indeed a blessing for Abu Dhabi residents,” he said.
“Now, I have to undergo a medical procedure soon and my doctor has asked for a PCR test result first. I have known about the free tests that are offered across the capital every day. So I plan to simply get the test done at one of the locations,” Mohammad said.