September 23, 2020

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Qatar widens virus testing beyond locked down workers

Qatar has launched a new drive-through coronavirus testing programme to assess the prevalence of the disease in the wider population beyond the worst-affected groups where tests had been targeted.

The Gulf monarchy of 2.75 million people has seen a relatively high number of cases with 18,890 testing positive.

However its death rate with 12 fatalities is one of the world’s lowest which experts say is down to the country’s young population and mandatory health checks for its vast foreign workforce.

Migrant labourers in the gritty Industrial Area suburb and Qataris returning from virus hotspots like Iran have been the focus of testing efforts, along with those found to have been in contact with them.

But a two-day pilot launched Wednesday has seen asymptomatic residents and citizens contacted and invited to participate in voluntary tests at several clinics across the country.

“The project aims at understanding what is the prevalence of the disease in the community — the community at large,” said Roberto Bertollini, an adviser to the health minister.

“We have a lot of data coming from the labourer community but not much from the overall community of white collar (workers), Qataris, and other populations.”

Tens of thousands of residents were quarantined in Industrial Area after cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed among the community in mid-March but authorities have begun to ease restrictions.

“This will allow us to know how many people are actually infected today,” added Bertollini.

A Qatari in a black pick-up truck flicked a victory sign after having swabs taken in a repurposed ambulance garage at the Lebaib Health Centre, 20 kilometres (12 miles) northwest of central Doha.

Officials have said the pilot could be extended.

Bars, restaurants, cinemas and mosques are shut in Qatar to contain the spread of coronavirus, but construction projects including World Cup 2022 stadiums have continued with new rules to encourage distancing.

Bertollini, who suggested the number of new infections could peak “in a couple of weeks’ time”, said Qatar’s social distancing measures “are probably what we can afford”.

“We need to be very prudent in releasing the restrictions,” he added.

(AFP)