Determined to build COVID tests of future, Israel collects 20,000 swabs in India
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Determined to build COVID tests of future, Israel collects 20,000 swabs in India

Israel a step closer to developing coronavirus tests that work in ‘tens of seconds,’ officer says, after finding the large population of virus-positive patients needed — in Delhi

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

An Indian COVID-19 patient provides samples to a medic helping Israel's coronavirus mission to India. (Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)
An Indian COVID-19 patient provides samples to a medic helping Israel's coronavirus mission to India. (Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)

In a nine-day swabbing marathon, an Israeli delegation in India has collected samples from 20,000 coronavirus patients, and says the data could facilitate new express testing methods to help societies return to their routines in the shadow of the pandemic.

Working with the Indian authorities, the Israeli team asked people who had tested positive to take another swab test, and also provide three other samples: breath, a recording of their voice, and saliva.

Attempts are underway in Israel to develop quick-turnaround coronavirus testing tech that eliminates the lengthy process of taking swabs from the nose or throat to labs for analysis, and scientists need large numbers of samples to accurately develop their tests.

As India has more than 585,000 active coronavirus cases, compared to Israel’s 25,800, it is a plentiful source of samples. The India mission is expected to push forward development of the new testing methods.

Members of Israel’s coronavirus mission to India, in Delhi. (Israel Ministry of Defense Spokesperson’s Office)

“The goal is to bring the world the technological capability to perform rapid coronavirus tests within tens of seconds, which will enable the opening of airports, office buildings, schools, train stations and more,” said Israel’s defense attaché to India, Col. Asaf Maller.

He added: “The Indian support for the project is amazing. All research and development bodies, including the scientific adviser to Prime Minister Modi, have joined the operation in full force. We hope that in a few months we will be able to bring good news to the world.”

A sample from Israel’s coronavirus mission to India, in Delhi. (Israeli Defense Ministry)

The mission was led by the Directorate of Defense Research and Development in Israel’s Defense Ministry, and included officials from the Foreign Ministry and Health Ministry. It collected samples at six new drive-in sites in Delhi, run by Indian volunteers recruited by local authorities, and set up two labs for data processing using technology brought from Israel. The delegation also delivered medical equipment to India.

Delegation head Lt. Col. Yaniv Meirman said:“We are optimistic and hopeful that in the near future we will put in place a system for the rapid diagnosis of the coronavirus, which will make it possible to further open the Israeli economy, ‘open’ the skies and reduce the damage caused by the pandemic.”

Before the mission left Israel for India, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said there was “tremendous importance” in cooperating with India in the fight to stem the pandemic.

“This operation conveys a message of friendship and solidarity and is an opportunity for unique scientific and technological cooperation that can help Israel, India and the entire world deal with the epidemic and the economic crisis that accompanies it,” he said.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report 

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