Health Ministry said set to reduce testing as system overwhelmed by outbreak

Asymptomatic people won’t be checked, family doctors will have reduced powers for referral, existing patients may have longer quarantine instead of follow-up testing, report says

Healthcare workers take test samples at a Clalilt health center in Modi'in, on July 07, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)
Healthcare workers take test samples at a Clalilt health center in Modi'in, on July 07, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to tighten the criteria for carrying out coronavirus testing in a bid to ease pressure on an overwhelmed system.

Officials are discussing stopping the testing of asymptomatic people as well as reducing the authority of family physicians to provide referrals to tests, the Ynet news site reported Wednesday.

Additionally, the ministry was said to be weighing cutting follow-up tests for those who initially test positive for the virus, so that instead of receiving an all-clear to leave isolation, they could be expected to quarantine for up to a month.

As the coronavirus outbreak has spiked in Israel, testing has increased, with levels reaching a record 25,127 tests carried out on Monday.

Health Ministry director general Prof. Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020 (Flash90)

The report said that senior officials at the health maintenance organizations met with Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy this week and told him that they lacked the manpower to conduct tests at government-set target rates after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein changed the criteria.

Last month Edelstein announced that testing was expanded to people with no symptoms after medical services had resisted calls to conduct mass testing to detect suspected patients who weren’t unwell.

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 — especially when lockdown measures are rolled back.

Currently, 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.

According to current guidelines, patients suffering from a list of symptoms including high fever, cough or difficulty breathing are eligible for a test, as well as anyone who has been in contact with a diagnosed carrier or at an educational institution with an outbreak.

Last month, Channel 12 reported that the HMOs had already warned they lacked the necessary manpower to conduct testing at the rates required by the Health Ministry.

Healthcare workers carry out testing at a Clalilt health center in Modi’in, on July 07, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

The report cited a letter to the 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.”

The Health Ministry on Tuesday evening released new figures showing 1,137 coronavirus infections confirmed in the previous 24 hours, in the largest single-day tally since the start of Israel’s outbreak. The Health Ministry also announced five new deaths, bringing the toll to 342, an increase of eight since Monday evening.

The number of total confirmed cases in Israel since the start of the outbreak stood at 32,222. The number of serious cases stood at 86, with 34 on ventilators.

Another 86 people were in moderate condition, with the rest suffering mild or no symptoms.

People walk next to empty chairs and tables at restaurants on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high of more than 13,600.

The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the sharpest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.

The government on this week passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars, and nightclubs.

Additionally, the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit was declared a restricted zone as coronavirus infections spiked there.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed