In policy reversal, Health Ministry said to increase testing of asymptomatics

In policy reversal, Health Ministry said to increase testing of asymptomatics

Health authorities reportedly to begin taking samples from all those exposed to virus carriers, even if they have no symptoms

A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on August 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A technician carries out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, on August 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

In a change of policy, the Health Ministry on Monday evening reportedly said that anyone who was in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 carrier can be tested, even if they are not displaying symptoms of the virus.

The ministry in late May began testing asymptomatic Israelis who were known to be exposed to the virus, but in July said that only those showing symptoms of the virus — primarily coughing, breathing difficulties, and fever — were eligible.

On Monday, the policy was again reversed, allowing anyone who came in contact with a patient to get tested, according to Channel 12.

The ministry also recently changed its criteria on recovered coronavirus patients, declaring thousands to be cured without follow-up testing.

It eased quarantine terms for recovering coronavirus patients, with those who were asymptomatic permitted to leave home 10 days after diagnosis.

Healthcare workers take test samples of Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus, in Modiin Illit, on July 29, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

Under those rules, patients who were diagnosed with the virus are considered cured after spending 10 days in quarantine from the moment they first showed symptoms, plus an additional three days during which they must show no symptoms. Those diagnosed with the virus and who have no symptoms can leave quarantine after 10 days, the ministry said.

In all cases, no further test for the virus is necessary, although the ministry noted that a doctor’s authorization is still required to indicate that the patients do not have virus symptoms.

The Health Ministry on Monday night logged 1,418 new COVID-19 cases since midnight, and eight deaths.

According to the ministry, there are 26,313 active cases in the country. It said 331 people are in serious condition, 99 of them on ventilators. Another 140 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

A man is tested by a healthcare worker for the coronavirus at a drive-thru testing center in Tel Aviv, on July 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The number of daily cases hovered around 2,000 last week, before dipping over the weekend to several hundred, which appeared linked to a decline in testing levels on Saturday.

Israel had largely succeeded in containing the spread of the virus during the initial outbreak in March, with the number of new daily cases dropping to the low dozens by May. However, following the rollback of most restrictions in May, there was a surge in infections.

On Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the number of cases was stabilizing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the growth rate in new coronavirus cases appeared to have leveled off, but cautioned that it could pick up again and that there could be a jump in deaths from COVID-19.

Speaking at the start of the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, he noted that Israel now has one of the highest morbidity rates per capita in the world. According to an Oxford University-based scientific publication, Israel currently has the eighth highest infection rate per capita.

“This is the bad news. The good news is that, over the last two weeks or so, we have been on a plateau,” he was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

Jerusalem residents, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, walk on Jaffa road in the city center of Jerusalem, August 2, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Senior ministers on Monday discussed the possibility of localized lockdowns and curfews during nights and weekends to stem the spread of COVID-19, but ended a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet without making new decisions on tackling the pandemic.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu will build a detailed plan by Wednesday’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, at which time the ministers will vote on a final decision.

The possibilities floated at the meeting ranged from local lockdowns in hotspots to nightly and weekend closures, according to Netanyahu.

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