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Health Ministry shifts emphasis to home testing as surging virus strains capacity

PCR tests to be reserved for those over 60 or at-risk; for everyone else, antigen tests can be done at home or at supervised locations, depending on vaccination status

People stand in line to be tested for the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
People stand in line to be tested for the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

With the testing system pushed to the limit under the surging Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the Health Ministry on Wednesday announced a new set of protocols designed to ease the long lines and preserve supplies.

According to a statement, the new regulations will come into effect at midnight between Thursday and Friday.

The new protocols prioritize testing for those who are over the age of 60 or at risk of serious illness, apparently so that they can be identified quickly if they contract the virus and receive new medications aimed at preventing their deterioration.

The rule changes apply both to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.

Under the new rules, those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered and are over the age of 60 or considered at risk must take a PCR test if they are exposed to a virus carrier. With a negative result they are exempted from isolation, but a positive result will require 10 days of quarantine. They will not need to take a second test at the end of that period, but will instead require a doctor’s approval to be released from isolation.

Anyone else who is fully vaccinated or recovered must perform an antigen test when they come into contact with a virus carrier — either at home or from a supervised testing station. With a negative result they are also exempted from isolation.

If a positive result is recorded on a home antigen test, then they must go for a supervised antigen test for confirmation. If that too is positive, then they must isolate for 10 days, with release also obtained with doctor’s approval rather than another test.

A woman has a rapid antigen test in Tel Aviv, on January 4, 2022 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Additionally, a vaccinated or recovered individual who is caring for a confirmed virus patient under the age of 12 must remain in quarantine until they get a negative result from an antigen test performed at an official location at the end of the child’s quarantine period.

The ministry stressed that individuals who have only received one dose of the vaccine are not considered vaccinated, and are therefore not exempt from quarantine.

Unvaccinated individuals and those who have not received official Health Ministry confirmation that they have recovered from the virus, who are over the age of 60 or are at risk, must undergo a PCR test if they come into contact with an infected individual.

With a negative result, they must stay in isolation for seven days, with release subject to a second negative PCR result on the final day. A positive result will require them to spend 10 days in quarantine, with the isolation period ending with a doctor’s approval.

People have antigen tests in Jerusalem, on January 3, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Anyone else who is unvaccinated and is in contact with a virus carrier must undergo a supervised antigen test.

With a negative result they must stay in isolation for seven days, with release subject to a second negative supervised antigen result on the last day. A positive result will require them to spend 10 days in quarantine, with isolation ending with a doctor’s approval.

Any unvaccinated individual who needs to quarantine alongside a child under the age of 12 or somebody who needs care will go into isolation for 14 days from the final day of that period, with the possibility of it being shortened with a negative supervised antigen test on the seventh day.

This aerial view shows cars lined up at a drive-thru testing site for the coronavirus, in Modiin, on January 2, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

The new guidelines did not set policy for people who are exhibiting symptoms but didn’t knowingly come into contact with a virus carrier.

The ministry said that antigen tests at supervised locations will be free but home tests will not be.

The announcement came as Israel reported on Wednesday an all-time high number of 11,978 daily COVID-19 infections the day before.

Omicron, first detected in South Africa, is apparently more contagious but causes less cases of severe illness and death — especially among vaccinated people.

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