The importance of reliable, accessible testing has never been more evident than in the current coronavirus pandemic. Countries that began testing quickly and widely have had drastically lower death rates and have also been able to contain the virus more effectively. Testing capabilities in both the public and private sector in the UAE have been rapidly expanding.
For example, VPS Global has just launched a fast track “at your doorstep” testing service. Samples can be collected at one of the group’s partner labs in Ajman, Dubai or Sharjah or at a location convenient to you in the UAE.
The service, which is approved by the UAE Ministry of Health, is especially helpful for people wanting to travel, who need fast results, but is open to all, whether you have symptoms or not. Appointments are scheduled online or by telephone and results are sent by email within 24 hours.
SEHA has opened seven new drive-through coronavirus screening centers across the country, offering the laser-based blood test across the country for people wanting to enter Abu Dhabi emirate. The new centers are at Zayed Sports City and the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, Al Hili in Al Ain and at the National Screening Centers in Mina Rashed, Al Khawaneej, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
Testing options are expanding every week. Here are the options in the UAE:
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
This is the most common type of test. It detects the virus from ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which carries the virus’ genetic information. Obviously the test can only detect Covid-19 if it is present in a person. Viral RNA is present in the body before symptoms or antibodies develop so the test can tell very early on whether the patient has the virus.
The test involves a swab being inserted high up into the nasal cavity. It feels slightly uncomfortable, rather than painful, and takes only a couple of seconds.
“PCR tests give us a good indication of who is infected,” says Dr Edward Wright, senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Sussex in the UK. “They can be isolated and get in contact with people they’ve been in touch with so they can be quarantined too, just in case. That’s the true advantage of the current major diagnostic tests. You can break that transmission chain.”
False negatives can occur in up to 30 percent of the tests, although testing procedures have been refined with more use of automation to reduce errors.
• The test is free if you have symptoms, are over 50, pregnant or already have a chronic medical condition. For everyone else it costs Dh370.
This test involves giving a small, pinprick-sized blood sample, which is then examined using laser technology known as Diffractive Phase Interferometry (DPI). DPI identifies the “signature” of the infection, taking only seconds to get a result.
This type of test makes it possible to screen large numbers of people quickly and at Dh50, it is considerably cheaper than the PCR test. However, it is really only a first step. If it detects the possible presence of the virus, a PCR test is necessary.
Currently, anyone wanting to enter Abu Dhabi emirate must have the test at the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border on Sheikh Zayed Road near the Ghantoot checkpoint or, as of this week, at one of seven new drive-through screening centers at Zayed Sports City and the Corniche in Abu Dhabi, Al Hili in Al Ain and at the National Screening Centers in Mina Rashed, Al Khawaneej, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah.
If you have the test at the Ghantoot checkpoint and the result is negative, you can continue with your journey. If you test positive, you have to have a PCR test right away, which is done at the same place. Only when that test is negative, will you be allowed to proceed into Abu Dhabi.
If you have the test in the other centers and the result is negative – meaning no nasal swab is needed – you will receive an SMS that then allows you to enter Abu Dhabi any time within 48 hours of getting the test result.
• Due to overwhelming demand, you have to pre-book an appointment online, which can be done via the SEHA app.
Serology or IgG antibodies test
This is the antibody test. It doesn’t tell who is infected with the virus but it does reveal who has had the virus and recovered from it and now has immunity. It takes a week or two for the body to generate antibodies, by which time the virus should have come and gone from the system.
The test involves giving a blood sample from your arm. The amount of coronavirus circulating in the blood will be very small (compared to the respiratory tract) but there will be a significant antibody presence, which can be measured.
This type of test can confirm a previous Covid-19 diagnosis with few or no symptoms, or the suspected presence of Covid-19 after a negative result from a PCR nasal swab. Reports of its accuracy vary from country to country but, as performed in the UAE, it is said to be more than 99 percent accurate in identifying someone who has been exposed to the virus.
“Patients who have had a positive Covid-19 swab have no need for an IgG test for confirmation. Patients with a negative swab and persisting flu-like symptoms may benefit from an antibody test,” says Mohammed Abdelmalek Mahmoud, specialist in clinical pathology at Mediclinic Al Noor Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
However, it should be noted that having antibodies does not mean you have permanent immunity. At present, nobody knows how long immunity lasts.
• The antibody test is available from branches of Mediclinic Middle East and King’s College Hospital in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain and also from VFS Global the COVID-19 Diagnostic PCR and/or Antibody testing service.It costs Dh565 at King’s College Hospital and Dh852 at Mediclinic. Both fees include a doctor’s consultation, with results delivered within 72 hours.
• VFS Global also offers the antibody test as well as the more standard PCR test. For appointment booking and general information, visit www.vfsglobal.com/uaecovidtest/ or email [email protected] or call the helpline at +971 42055906.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.