Health Ministry said to tighten criteria for virus testing due to lab shortages
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Health Ministry said to tighten criteria for virus testing due to lab shortages

Officials reportedly decide that a person must have both COVID-19 symptoms and known exposure or risk to qualify for test, as processing laboratories run out of needed chemicals

An ultra-orthodox youth is tested for coronavirus in Bnei Brak, March 31, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ AP)
An ultra-orthodox youth is tested for coronavirus in Bnei Brak, March 31, 2020. (Ariel Schalit/ AP)

The Health Ministry on Friday reportedly decided to restrict its criteria for coronavirus tests amid a shortage of testing material in laboratories.

Reports earlier this week said the Israeli laboratories that process the tests were running out of reagents — substances used for chemical analyses — required by the tests.

According to the new guidelines, in order to receive a test, a person must have symptoms of COVID-19, and have been with a virus-carrier, or returned to Israel from abroad or from the Palestinian territories, in the 14 days before their symptoms appeared, the Ynet news site reported.

In other words, displaying symptoms of COVID-19 is no longer enough to qualify for a test for the disease.

The symptoms specified by the Health Ministry include a temperature over 38°C (100.4°F), a cough, difficulty breathing, or other respiratory symptoms.

A person is considered at risk if they were near a coronavirus-carrier for over 15 minutes at a distance of under two meters.

People who work in high risk settings, such as hospitals or nursing homes, are also eligible, as are people returning from foreign countries experiencing severe outbreaks.

Previously, people only needed to display symptoms and receive approval from medical personnel to qualify for a test.

The hours of testing sites run by the Magen David Adom emergency services will be reduced on Saturday, the report said.

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers and a Shaare Zedek hospital medical team, wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Jerusalem on April 2, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

MDA is holding some 7,000 samples taken on Thursday, and will transfer them to laboratories once the labs are able to process them.

On Thursday, Channel 12 reported that laboratories processing the testing kits in Israel had only enough supplies to last two more days due to the large numbers of tests carried out in recent days.

A lab manager said that researchers had warned of a shortage, but did not receive an answer from officials on how to address the issue.

The Health Ministry said it tested 7,294 people on Friday and had carried out a total of 90,394 tests.

Authorities said they are seeking to ramp up testing to at least 10,000 a day. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry to acquire enough kits to perform 30,000 daily checks.

People who have been entering Israel from areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic have entered the country without testing unless they requested a check.

Health authorities in recent days stepped up testing in Arab communities across the country.

Three men and a woman in their seventies died of the coronavirus on Friday in Israel, bringing the national death toll from the pandemic to 39. The number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases climbed to 7,428.

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