Madrid’s Free COVID Tests Struggle to Keep up With Demand | World News

By Michael Gore and Javier Barbancho

MADRID (Reuters) – Demand for free COVID-19 testing kits provided by Madrid’s regional government far outstripped supply on Tuesday, with long queues forming outside pharmacies in what has become a common scene since the Omicron variant began driving up infection.

Madrid-based pharmacist Cristina Sanchez said she had only received 20 test kits to distribute on Tuesday as part of a plan to reinforce supply after pharmacies started running out of paid tests, but there were already more than 30 people waiting ouside when she opened.

As the first few people in line tend to take several tests each, most have to return home empty handed or buy kits for 9 euros, which were also selling out fast.

“The people who are waiting outside, who are cold, who have been waiting for a long time, we can’t give them to them anymore,” she told Reuters at her pharmacy on the outskirts of Madrid.

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Taxi driver Miguel Jesus Arroyo was one of the lucky few to secure a test.

“You’ve got to get up early, because if you don’t come soon, it’s all over in a flash,” he said.

Fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, cases in Spain have soared in the past month, pushing the national 14-day incidence to a record 1,206 cases per 100,000 people on Monday, a five-fold rise since the beginning of December.

Despite the surge, hospital admissions and intensive-care occupancy remain well below the peaks of last January.

The government brought back mandatory outdoor mask wearing last week but has not attempted to reimpose any tougher national restrictions.

However, regional administrations, which are responsible for implementing their own health policy, have introduced measures ranging from a night curfew in Catalonia to limits on social gatherings and bar opening times.

Madrid, whose conservative government has put supporting the hospitality sector at the top of its political agenda, is opting for increased testing and no restrictions on socialising.

(Writing by Nathan Allen, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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