“Look, I’m very much like Isabel Ayuso, but she has screwed up on this,” censor Julia, a pharmacist, when her pharmacy runs out for the second time in the morning the free COVID antigen tests that the Community of Madrid is distributing around the region. There were a dozen people at the door when the owner announced that there were no tests left, neither free nor paid. The line immediately disappeared, much to the annoyance of Nacho Pérez, 42, worried that Christmas is upon us and his grandmother is 91 years old. He had to try his luck at another pharmacy, the third one today.
The keys to rapid antigen tests for self-diagnosis (for Christmas dinners)
The distribution of self-diagnosis tests in the face of the sharp spike in infections in Madrid has not satisfied the demand. Despite the fact that the Minister of Health, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, boasted at noon that 770,000 tests had been distributed, out of six million acquired for these days, the usual thing this morning has been that between one and three shipments of 50 units, which were sold out after a few minutes. “We are a little tired of being used to distribute”, continued Julia after hanging the sign of ‘no tests left’. “When opening in the morning there was a queue of 20. It is not about working for free, but that you stop doing the rest of the work,” he complained. “I know that there is an exponential growth, but they should have done it more extensively,” he opposed. Why not distribute them outside the health centers? He wondered, after insisting that today’s day was being “a brown one.”
At the pharmacy closest to Julia’s, who asked that her last name not be mentioned, the queues for the test lasted up to half an hour. Among those who waited, there were hardly any people who had had risky contacts. Pablo Molina and Neus Roca, twenty-something students from Cádiz and Rota, respectively, had already tried their luck with three other pharmacies, without success. They were coming home for Christmas and they wanted to be quiet. “It’s for the holidays, as a precaution,” agreed Soledad González, 59, in her second attempt. At that moment, a pharmacy clerk peeked out the door. “Does anyone need medication?” Be quiet. “Do you all want a test?” Silence again, with some slight nod in line. The woman snorted and went back inside.
The situation was repeated throughout the city. “Community COVID test exhausted,” read the poster hanging early in the morning in the pharmacy on Juan XXIII street in the Moncloa-Aravaca district, reports Irene Castro. On the way to two o’clock less than 500 meters away, in Reina Victoria (where they are also sold out), a man sitting on a bench was talking with two other people at the door of a greengrocer. It was the talk of the morning: “In that one there they have finished in the middle of the queue.” To the north, in Valdebebas, an hour’s wait ended in failure. In the pharmacy in question they only counted on having 50 tests today and encouraged the neighbors to return the next day. In La Guindalera, a little earlier, the queue gathered several people with their health card plus those of their relatives or roommates, depending on the case. At 9.30 and after 15 minutes in line it was possible to take home the boxes with the evidence.
Demand is so high that over-the-counter tests also sell out quickly, giving rise to the well-known phenomenon of flash inflation. At five euros, six and a half or nine, depending on who you ask. Julia, Ayuso’s sympathetic pharmacist, did not want to reveal the price at which she had acquired them, but it was already “double” than a few days ago. They sold out anyway, if at all. Outside of Madrid, as much of the same. The pharmacist told a family from Majadahonda that no more tests were expected until Christmas Eve. This, for the free ones. For those of payment it was necessary to sign up in a list that already occupied six pages. Another contemporary phenomenon, that of the digital hoax, was manifested again in networks such as WhatsApp, where messages were circulated recommending a certain brand of tests because it was supposedly (falsely, in reality) more reliable to detect the omicron variant.
With pharmacies ruled out, the remaining option was to return to private laboratories. At the acupuncture clinic on Jorge Juan Street, in Fuente del Berro, the business opportunity ran into labor legislation. Antigen tests are normally charged at € 30; PCR, 100. But the nurse was fighting. “Of course it hurts us, but it also has the right,” they opposed to the telephone.
They did work at a good pace at the Virgen del Camino clinic, on Paseo de Delicias. The drip of clients was constant in the consultation, attended at the entrance by personnel protected with a screen and individual screen, as in the worst months of 2020. Julieta Zapotoczny, who returns to Italy, did not want to leave anything to chance, as far as possible , and he did two tests, the pharmacy and also the laboratory, because they told him it was more reliable. “If you book it online, it costs you half,” he warned. Here the antigens cost 40; PCR, 90.
“If you are traveling abroad, bring your passport,” they pointed out by phone who asked for information. Results were delivered in 20 minutes, for antigen testing. Mar and Gisela Hernández, 37 and 46-year-old sisters, agreed to pay to be calm. “You’re already scared,” said the youngest. “I found one at the pharmacy, but I save it for New Years,” revealed the older. They will not travel abroad but to Pozuelo de Alarcón, where their parents live, although emotionally the distance may be great.