Israel’s coronavirus tests are at risk of lagging significantly behind government-set target rates as health maintenance organizations (HMOs) lack the necessary manpower to conduct all of them, a report said Thursday evening.
All of the country’s HMOs were complaining to the Health Ministry about the “flood” of coronavirus tests this week, which they say their labs can’t adequately handle, Channel 12 said.
The report cited a letter to the Health Ministry sent by Dr. George Prajgrod, the head of the Medical Laboratory Division at the Meuhedet HMO, warning that “we have been pushed to the limit — we don’t have the manpower to handle all the tests.”
“If you don’t stop the flood of tests forced upon us, there will be another testing scandal,” Prajgrod wrote to Ruti Yishai, the deputy head of the ministry’s department of laboratories.
He was referring to an episode during the outbreak in which the labs lacked the necessary reagents and other equipment needed to carry out the tests.
“Please contact the senior managers of the Health Ministry and update them that all the labs are in crisis and there is no chance of meeting the target number of tests — this time not because of regents or machines but because we don’t have enough manpower for this task.”
The ministry previously oversaw all testing, before handing over the process to the HMOs.
This week saw a marked increase in testing amid a new COVID-19 outbreak in the country, largely linked to schools.
Most carriers of COVID-19 have only mild symptoms or none at all, and experts fear that asymptomatic patients can transfer the contagion to others, making massive testing a critical element in getting a grip on the true spread of the virus.
After just 1,000 tests were conducted on Saturday, the Health Ministry said that 11,721 were conducted on Tuesday and 12,929 on Wednesday.
Continuing the upward trend, the Health Ministry confirmed another 118 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 17,495.
The number of active cases, which last week dipped below the 2,000 mark, has since surged and reached 2,191.
Of the sick, 30 were in serious condition, 23 of them on ventilators. Another 33 were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.
The death toll remained at 291.
The number of Israelis confirmed to have recovered from the disease surpassed 15,000 on Thursday.
A senior Health Ministry official, Itamar Grotto, said on Tuesday that coronavirus restrictions would be reimposed if more than 100 cases in a day are identified that aren’t mostly connected to a single local outbreak, amid the upward trend in infections over the past week.
He also said Israel had the ability to test as many as 40,000 people per day, but was choosing not to.
Israel has taken steps in recent weeks to roll back its virus restrictions, reopening schools, synagogues, malls, restaurants and other spaces. While social distancing and hygiene guidelines remain in place, many have taken a more relaxed attitude as the virus appeared to wane, including regarding instructions to wear masks in most settings outside the home.
That resulted in a renewed outbreak starting last week, when for the first time in weeks the number of daily new confirmed infections was higher than 100. The number of new daily cases has mostly stayed above 100 ever since.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Sunday announced plans to expand virus testing to those not showing symptoms and sternly warned Israelis against relaxing social distancing and hygiene habits.
Medical services have thus far largely limited testing to those displaying symptoms of the virus and have resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected asymptomatic carriers. As he unveiled the looser criteria for testing, Edelstein stressed that even those who test negative must remain in 14-day quarantine if they were exposed to a virus patient or displayed symptoms of COVID-19.
On Monday, Channel 12 said Edelstein had barred all the senior officials in the Health Ministry from giving media interviews, since some of them oppose his move to allow testing of asymptomatic people. He wanted to prevent contradictory statements being made by different ministry officials, the report said.