Coronavirus: inside the UAE's largest Covid-19 screening site aiming to test 10,000 a day

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Mass testing on an industrial scale is under way at the nation’s largest Covid-19 screening centre in Abu Dhabi.

Assembled in just 10 days, a small tented village in Mussaffah with the capacity to test 10,000 people a day began swabbing the first of many blue collar workers on Wednesday.

It is the country's latest weapon in the fight to contain the virus.

Workers are bussed in from various zones around the emirate to

the testing site, the third built by Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, or Seha, to support the National Screening Project.

Ambulatory Healthcare Service chief executive, Mohamed Hawas Al Sadid, supervised the development of the 3,500 square metre test centre and said staff there will aim to test 10,000 people a day.

“The assessments follow all the international guidelines to check a patient’s history such as age group, chronic diseases or contact with others who may have the virus,” he said.

“People are evaluated at the registration phase before they are medically assessed.

People pass through a sanitisation gate before entering the new screening facility in Mussaffah. All pictures by Victor Besa/The National

Thermal checks are carried out at the registration centre

Workers and residents queue in front of the sanitisation gate

Pavan Kapoor, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, inspects the vast facility

Ambulatory Healthcare Service chief executive, Mohamed Hawas Al Sadid, believes the testing centre will be integral to the nation's fight against Covid-19

The medical registration area of the screening centre

The main medical registration area has a marked floor to promote social distancing

People are thermal checked before registering

A worker enters the sanitisation gate before before entering the screening centre

A medical worker with a swab testing kit. Victor Besa/The National

A worker exits the sanitisation gate before before entering the centre

The swab testing area of the centre

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“Most of them are from industrial areas across Abu Dhabi from companies of all sizes.

“We will be doing this for a while as our aim is to test as many employees as we can.”

On arrival in Mussafah, workers walk through a sanitisation mist shower before entering the tented clinic.

A cooling-off area offers an escape from the 35°C heat before they have their temperature checked.

Workers abide by social distancing practices as they await their Covid-19 test. Victor Besa/The National  
Workers abide by social distancing practices as they await their Covid-19 test. Victor Besa/The National  

A high body temperature of 38°C could indicate signs of fever, a common coronavirus symptom.

An announcer then issues instructions to those waiting to be screened inside the air-conditioned facility.

One of those patiently waiting was Bashir Hussain Rahimkhan, 52, a Pakistani security guard who works on Reem Island who arrived at the centre just after 9am.

“I was given a number and told to wait in line,” he said.

Coronavirus outbreak

Another queue sends visitors to a line where they are processed by handing over their Emirates ID card and phone number.

Reassuring signs adorn the tent’s walls telling visitors not to worry.

Visitors must complete a brief questionnaire to help nurses understand the health status of those waiting in line.

They are then given a green, yellow or red wristband according to their health status after nurses check their oxygen saturation levels via a blood test.

“I was sent to the yellow area because of my age, but I have no issues at the moment,” said Mr Rahimkhan, who works for Spark Security Services. He has three children aged 18, 16 and 12 who live in Islamabad.

“I try to eat well and exercise to stay healthy so I can keep working for my family.

“Now I must wait for the results. Hopefully I will be ok.”

Anyone showing no symptoms and considered low-risk passes into the green zone.

Those seen as vulnerable with an existing health condition or symptoms is processed into the yellow area.

Health workers dressed in full protective equipment and shielded by a perspex screen take nasal swabs of anyone with a yellow or red wristband.

The clinic has 73 healthcare workers on site, with a further 15 volunteers helping process workers through the facility.

Those arriving at the sprawling site with clear symptoms of Covid-9 such as a persistent cough or fever are triaged by nurses and taken to a coronavirus isolation ward.

The new screening centre has the capacity to test 10,000 people per day, offering a major boost to the country's effort to contain Covid-19. Victor Besa/The National  
The new screening centre has the capacity to test 10,000 people per day, offering a major boost to the country's effort to contain Covid-19. Victor Besa/The National  

Narmayagharpi Magar, 22, from Nepal is an administrative assistant in a building on Electra Street.

“I have had a cough recently and my breathing has been difficult so they had to test me for the virus,” she said.

“It is the first time I have seen a nurse since I have had symptoms. I feel ok, so they took a swab from my nose and will test for coronavirus.

“My husband has also been tested. I have spoken to my family back home, like us they are scared of getting the virus.”

Anyone showing signs they may have the virus has their vital signs checked, a chest x-ray and an electro cardio graph to assess their heart function.

Swab results are sent out via text message within 48 hours.

The procedure takes just 20 minutes before visitors are then bussed back to their collection point armed with a hygiene package of mask, gloves and hand sanitiser gel.

The service is provided free of charge.

Filipina Sheila Luna, 36, has two children aged 11 and 8 to support at home in Surigao.

“I got here about 10am and it took just 20 minutes to get tested,” said Ms Luna, who lives in Al Najda Street.

“They checked my ID and then asked lots of questions about how I was feeling or if my friends have the virus.

“The swab made me cry, it was quite painful but it is good to know if I have the virus or not.

“I share a home with 15 people. All my friends are worried about getting Covid-19 and get their information from the internet. They listen to a lot of crazy rumours.”

Ms Luna recently lost her job in real estate.

To take on part time work, she must first prove she does not have the virus so was waiting anxiously for her results after being tested.

“I am worried about how the virus will impact my family,” she said.

“I need to have the test before I can start working part time again.”

Updated: May 6, 2020 06:07 PM

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