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300 people were tested on the first day of the drive through testing centre being opened Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: In its first eight hours of operation, the drive-through COVID-19 screening centre in the capital has already tested more than 300 people, a top official at the facility has confirmed.

“Our aim with introducing this facility is to minimise the contact between COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers, as well as to reduce exposure of regular patients at health facilities to those afflicted by the coronavirus,” said Dr Noura Al Ghaithi, chief operating officer at the Ambulatory Healthcare Services.

The centre was inaugurated yesterday by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Videos on social media saw the leader getting a nasopharyngeal swab at the facility, and speaking to healthcare workers.

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The drive through test facility is located at Zayed Sports City Image Credit: Supplied

Testing fees

The centre is managed by the AHS, a section that manages primary clinics under Abu Dhabi’s public health provider, the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha). It is located at the Zayed Sports City.

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Dr Noura Al Ghaithi Image Credit: Supplied

For now, testing is provided free for people who meet risk criteria, such as showing respiratory symptoms, having travel history to an affected region or contact with infected or suspect cases, being afflicted by chronic illnesses, or being pregnant with respiratory symptoms.

Residents first need to contact the Abu Dhabi Department of Health’s Estijaba call service on 8001717, and medical workers conduct a virtual triage. Once they are deemed eligible for free testing, the individual receives a booking time and date to show up at the drive-through centre.

“We also have a self-pay track for those who don’t meet the criteria but insist on the screening. Each such test costs Dh375 per person,” Dr Al Ghaithi said.

Among the 300 who have already been tested, there were 25 people who paid for the tests on their own.

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Tests cost Dh375 per person but are free if referred Image Credit: Supplied

How are visitors tested?

In total, there are four tracks for testing.

When a person shows up at the facility, they are first instructed to sanitise their hands, then insert their Emirates ID for registration. The procedure takes about a minute, and the person’s contact number is confirmed so that they can receive test results.

The visitor is then directed to the nursing station, where a nurse donning personal protective equipment conducts a nasopharyngeal swab without asking the driver to exit the vehicle.

After the test, the person can drive out, and expect to receive test results within 24 to 48 hours.

“We are hoping to test about 600 people per day between the 8AM-8PM hours of operation. And to facilitate this, we have 100 trained personnel, including administrators, nursing staff, IT personnel and physicians,” Dr Al Ghaithi said.

Every person screened at the centre is instructed to self-isolate until they receive test results. In case the result is positive, which means that the person has COVID-19, a team from the DoH gets in touch to direct the patient to a healthcare facility for treatment and isolation. Otherwise, negative test results are conveyed by SMS.

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A view of the drive through test centre in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

Why is testing necessary?

The World Health Organisation recommends that countries test every suspect case, or persons at risk with symptoms, to limit the coronavirus outbreak. So far, the UAE has one of the highest per capita testing rates in the world.

“We have enough testing kits, and personal protective equipment for health workers, and hope to maintain the high rate of testing to protect the community. This centre will be especially helpful to test the elderly and the immunocompromised, who would benefit from limited exposure to other people,” Dr Al Ghaithi explained.

In cases where a person is unable to drive down to the centre on their own, the doctor recommended they come with a family member to complete the tests.

“To develop this facility, we’ve looked at best practices at countries around the world, including South Korea, the United States and France. We trust its operations will help keep residents safe,” Dr Al Ghaithi said.