What kinds of tests are available, and which should you use when?
There are essentially two broad categories of testing available in Qatar, PCR testing, and antigen testing (frequently referred to as rapid tests which also includes self-testing kits).
What kind of test should I get?
The advantage of rapid antigen tests, whether they are taken at home or at a testing center, is that they are fast, relatively cheap, and are largely reliable for telling you right now if you’re spreading the virus. A PCR test is more sensitive and will identify an infection sooner, but it takes more time to get the result. Both tests are useful, but with a fast-spreading variant like Omicron, a rapid test can prompt someone to isolate a quicker, sparing others from being infected.
“It is vitally important that older people are protected against the virus. As people age, their immune system diminishes, making them more susceptible to infection,” says Dr. Hanadi Al Hamad medical director of Rumailah Hospital.
Even though PCR testing is more effective at detecting viral loads, there is a strain on the health sector in Qatar making it more difficult to process PCR tests as quickly as before. Officials have set out a priority to protect the most vulnerable in the community – such as the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions who could have severe complications if they get the virus.
Where do you get the PCR testing and what if you are planning to travel?
The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) announced that the PCR testing at the drive-thru centre in Luail is free for people 50 years and above with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and who have been in close contacts with confirmed cases , in addition to preoperative patients regardless of their age. It is available from 8 am to 10 pm and only offers PCR tests.
At a cost of QR160, those planning on traveling can also use the drive-thru facility, but they must provide proof of travel and pay by credit card, no cash payments are allowed.
To get a test you must also present a valid health card and a green Ehteraz status.
MoPH also added that the drive-thru center will not accommodate post-travel COVID-19 testing. Instead returning travelers can now get a rapid antigen tests done at a licensed private or public health centre which will suffice upon their return to Qatar.
How long will PCR testing results take?
Results of PCR tests done will be delivered within 24 to 48 hours. However, there have been cases in which it has taken longer. The person will receive a link through SMS that will allow him or her to print their test results via the patient portal.
Read more: Qatar’s PCR crisis
What should travelers returning to Qatar have?
Travelers returning to Qatar who are required to have a COVID-19 test following arrival back in Qatar should have a Rapid Antigen Test (not PCR) at an authorized medical centre.
Where do you get the Rapid antigen test?
Rapid antigen tests are available at more than 100 private hospitals and clinics in Qatar at a cost of QR50 per test. Test results at private centres are usually delivered within 15 minutes. Rapid antigen tests are also available at all 28 PHCC health centers. The results will be sent to individuals via SMS within two hours of the test and the results reflected in the Ehteraz app no earlier than 4 hours after the test. Rapid antigen tests at PHCC health centres are charged at the following rates: QR50 for unvaccinated individuals for work or school purposes; QR50 for post-travel tests; free for eligible people with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 or who have had close contact with infected cases.
There are also rapid tests that you can take at home. Self-tests are available in authorized pharmacies and Al Meera hypermarkets throughout Qatar. MOPH has set a maximum cost of QR35 per test, with a limit of 10 tests per person, per transaction. The results of at home testing however can not be reflected o your Ehteraz and is not recognised by any airline or official entity.
For more information please check the Ministry of Health’s website.