With a delay in PCR testing, more people are depending on at home antigen tests. Meanwhile public figures have made a point of thanking frontline workers who once again are under enormous stress.
People across Qatar are calling on the Ministry of Commerce and Industry [MOCI] to monitor the prices of rapid antigen tests [RAT] at all pharmacies as the country deals with an apparent testing crisis.
Citizens and residents in Qatar have expressed their frustration on social media over what many have described as “exploitation” by some pharmacies selling RAT’s at extortionate prices.
Prior to the third wave of COVID infections hitting Qatar, pharmacies were selling the RAT for QAR 30, but after scenes of overcrowding and long lines at PCR testing centres spread on the internet, that price increased to QAR 50 with some people claiming they had to pay QAR 100 for a single test.
The concerns come despite the fact that the Ministry of Public Health [MOPH] had set a price cap on rapid testing at private health facilities las year. Those looking to get a rapid antigen test at a clinic will only pay a maximum of QAR 50.
One concerned Qatari citizen said: “Unfortunately, exploitation of citizens and residents has increased these days with crisis-profiteers allowed to do business freely without oversight or accountability. The RAT was QAR 30 two days ago and now it has reached QAR 50 and QAR 100!!! It is unethical to exploit the need of people in such crises”
“The RAT costed QAR 30, now its price in some pharmacies has reached QAR 100. We hope the MOCI intervenes to stop the exploitation of the current crisis and the pandemic,” said Abdulrahman Bin Saoud, another Qatari citizen, in a tweet directed at the ministry of commerce.
The MOCI responded to the tweet by saying that his message “has been forwarded to the relevant team”.
Bin Saoud also learned later on Tuesday that the MOCI has launched an inspection campaign at local pharmacies. However, an announcement has yet to be made by the ministry regarding action taken against them.
While more people echoed the same concerns, they noted that people have also been bulk-buying the tests, leaving little for other members of the public.
Some have also accused small online businesses of taking advantage of the situation— where more people are testing positive amid the spread of the Omicron variant—by selling it in bulk.
A screenshot shared by one Twitter user showed an account advertising the RAT at the price of QAR 850 per carton, containing 25 test kits. However, the account’s name was not mentioned.
Meanwhile, people called on authorities to activate Law No. 12 of 1972 on Mandatory Pricing and Fixing Profits, under which violators would be imprisoned for up to one year and face a fine of at least QAR 10,000.
While the RAT is not as accurate as the hospital PCR tests, due to the lower sensitivity in the former, there has been a high demand among the public to purchase it.
This is mainly due to what appears to be a testing crisis in the country, with images and videos showing long queues at hospitals and clinics of people trying to get their PCR tests spreading across social media.
Thanking frontline workers
Qatar has been witnessing an alarming rise in Covid-19 cases over the past couple of weeks following the emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
The increase in cases also coincided with large public gatherings at major sporting and social events in Qatar including the FIFA Arab Cup.
On Tuesday, the MOPH recorded 1,695 cases, bumping up the total number of active cases to 8,339 after maintaining less than 1,000 before December. Skeptics believe the actual number to be far higher.
With frontline workers carrying the heaviest burden of the latest crisis, officials like Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater have taken the time to acknowledge their efforts.
“The medical staff works day and night, and I personally know those who have been working for more than 18 consecutive hours for weeks, not to mention the past two years. I request from you [her public] to remember them in your prayers,” said Al Khater in a tweet on Tuesday.
“We are all exhausted and frustrated, but they [frontline workers] spend sleepless nights on top of their exhaustion to help us. I personally thank every doctor, nurse and security guard,” she added.
Others joined the Qatari official in thanking the medical staff grappling with the spread of the virus.
“Respect to the hard working doctors, nurses and front liners. They work over 18 hour shifts, cancelled their holidays, and don’t get to see their families so you can be with yours,” said social media influence Khalifa Al Haroon, Founder of I Love Qatar [ILQ].
Late last month, workers at the Primary Health Care Corporation [PHCC] were forced to cancel all current and future vacations per a decision by the health body.
Those impacted by the decision include nurses, laboratories workers, radiologists, pharmacists, and workers in facilities directly related to dealing with or treating COVID-19 cases.