Unmindful of the risk

Muscat: Even as the COVID-19 test is getting overwhelming response from both citizens and expatriates, there are many people, who are unwilling to approach the centres.

The reason, as the volunteers involved in the campaign point out is, “many of them have not realised the perils involved in the pandemic”.

Other people, despite the government announcement that “the test is free and resident card is not required for the purpose”, are still afraid of approaching the testing centres because “they do not possess valid documents to stay in the country”.

These people, according to medical experts, will not only hinder the campaign to control the contagion but also risk themselves and others too.

They may not be potential carriers of the dreaded virus, but some of them have symptoms including sniffing, sneezing and even coughing.

Firoz (he did not reveal the full name) was spotted with same strains at the gate of a supermarket in Ruwi where a large number of people wander around.

Being quizzed, he said, “I do not want to go to the testing centre as it is likely that I may be caught for not having proper documents. I am taking some tablets given from the pharmacy”.

Firoz is one among many expats who skip the test despite having symptoms similar to that of the COVID-19 virus.

Kamaruddin arrived in the Sultanate just one a year ago on the so-called non-existing ‘free visa’ and has been working with a contractor on daily wages.

“Life is becoming difficult for me. We are six people staying in one room. Others do not have even proper documents so that we can go to the testing centres. Now the situation is that we are left without any money”, he said.

Mohmmed al Balushi, one of the volunteers with the ministry of health who are campaigning to encourage expatriates to attend the test said that the biggest challenge they face is ‘not the risk involved in the infection, but creating awareness about need for the potential carriers of the virus reaching testing centres’.

“Many of them fear that they would be asked to produce resident cards or other documents for the test despite our assurance about its waiver”, he told Observer over phone.

He said that if anybody, especially those who are staying in groups, develops the viral symptoms, they should volunteer to appear for the test.

“They should show moral leadership. At the same time, do not turn up at the testing centres unless you meet the testing criteria for your state. Stay at home and do not wander around”, he advises.

Pharmacies in the crowded areas like Muttrah, Hamriyah and Ruwi face beeline of people collecting paracetamol, cough syrup or some pain killers.

“Most of them are found to have symptoms similar to that of the virus including coughing, temperature or sore throats. But they do self medication”, a pharmacist said confidentially.

According to the annual statistics released by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), there were 910,558 expatriates in Muscat Governorate against 543,930 Omanis in 2018.

Within Muscat, Muttrah is home to 218,027 expatriates against 64,089 Omanis.

While Bausher has 378,923 expatriates and 98,198 Omanis, followed by Seeb with 219,490 expatriates and 246,117 nationals, Al Amerat has 61,138 citizens against 29,357 expatriates.