NAT 200630 Abu Dhabi Check Point CE010-1594717911275
A COVID-19 check point has been set up near the last exit for people entering Abu Dhabi from Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: A locally-developed form of rapid coronavirus testing technology has today been adopted by UAE health authorities and is now being used at the borders of Abu Dhabi.

The laser-based technology that produces test results within seconds has been devised by Abu Dhabi-based Quantlase Imaging Lab. It has been adopted by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) to screen for potential COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Committee said that it will be implementing the new test to facilitate entry into the emirate.

What is the new laser-based test?

The MoHAP said the test can “mass detect virus-caused inflammation in blood samples within seconds”.

“The device will help limit the number of individuals undergoing the PCR test as it identifies potential COVID-19 cases. Those with positive results [on this test] can take a nose swab PCR test to determine if the cause [for the detected inflammation] is COVID-19,” the MoHAP said in a statement.

How does it work?

At a press briefing in May, Dr Pramod Kumar, head of research at QuantLase, had explained that people need to provide a blood sample for the rapid laser-based test. The blood sample is inserted into the device, and laser light is shone onto it. When the light is scattered by cells, interference is used to create patterns on a screen in a process known as Diffractive Phase Interferometry.

Dr Kumar explained that different cells have different signature patterns when exposed to this equipment. Healthy blood cells create clear circular rings, whereas infected blood cells produce a more diffuse pattern. This pattern differs from infection to infection and can allegedly be refined through the use of artificial intelligence.

How accurate is it?

Following tests on 6,000 samples in May, QuantLase had announced an 85 to 90 per cent accuracy for the test. Peter Abraham, executive director at International Holding Group, an Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange-listed investment firm that owns QuantLase, had told Gulf News at the time that the new technology could provide tests at less as Dh100 apiece.

Abu Dhabi entry

As of now, the test will be deployed at the Abu Dhabi border.

Since the implementation of movement restrictions into and out of Abu Dhabi last month, travellers have had to prove that they are free of COVID-19 in order to gain access. This has meant that they must get a COVID-19 PCR test from a health facility, and present it to the authorities at the border within 48 hours in order to gain entry. In addition to the time required to get PCR test results, travellers have also had to shell out Dh370 per test.

The implementation of the laser-based DPI test should therefore make this process of entry faster and easier.

“Travellers to Abu Dhabi can be screened for COVID-19 upon entry by a laser-based DPI technique. A negative result will allow entry to Abu Dhabi, while a positive result will lead to further testing through a PCR test,” the Abu Dhabi Media Office had announced on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Committee.

Verifying test results

In cases where a traveller has a positive result on the rapid laser-test, they must undergo a nose-swab facilitated PCR test at the border. This is done to verify the positive result of the laser-based test.

Following the PCR test, travellers have to return to their residences and await the results of the PCR test while avoiding contact with others. If the result of the PCR test comes out as negative for COVID-19, these travellers will be allowed to enter Abu Dhabi in the 48 hours after the result is received.

“The public is encouraged to plan ahead and undergo tests in advance as much as possible to avoid any potential delays,” authorities have urged.