Israel to quadruple coronavirus testing in coming days

Number of daily tests to jump from 400 to 1,600, Health Ministry director says; ministry orders large supplies of anti-malaria, HIV medication, believed to help treat disease

A Magen David Adom paramedic performs a coronavirus test on a volunteer at the coronavirus national operations center in Kiryat Ono, February 26, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Illustrative: A Magen David Adom paramedic performs a coronavirus test on a volunteer at the coronavirus national operations center in Kiryat Ono, February 26, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel is planning to ramp up the number of tests for the novel coronavirus it can perform every day, quadrupling the checks, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said Wednesday.

The number of tests for the virus is planned to go from 400 to 1,600 a day, he told Channel 12.

According to the station, four major hospitals — Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, Beilenson Medical Center in Petah Tikvah, and Poriya Hospital in the north — have in recent weeks checked people for symptoms of COVID-19, but not for the disease itself as the patients did not report that they had returned from abroad, according to Channel 12.

In addition, the Health Ministry recently began stocking up on large amounts of anti-malaria and HIV medication as they are thought to be effective in treating those who are seriously ill with COVID-19, Army Radio reported.

“Tens of thousands” of doses were ordered and are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, according to the station.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that Israel is limiting public events in enclosed areas to 100 people as part of increasingly strict measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

The ban includes synagogue prayer and weddings, Bar Siman-Tov elaborated. Schools are staying open for now, but officials may require institutes of higher education to teach remotely.

Netanyahu praised the restrictions Israel has introduced until now, saying they better positioned the Jewish state to deal with the virus than other countries that had not ordered such measures. “In Israel our situation is better than in many states,” the premier said.

Bar Siman-Tov, who also spoke at the press conference, said higher education institutes could hold classes online, with students studying from home, but this was not yet a formal requirement.

He said Israel was not currently considering shuttering schools and public transportation was operating as usual.

Israel was also not ordering workplaces to close, but where it was possible to work from home, employees should do so, he said.

Israelis with a fever or respiratory symptoms should self-quarantine, and, once their temperatures return to normal, wait a further 48 hours before going back out, Bar Siman-Tov added.

Noting elderly people faced greater health risks from COVID-19, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Israelis should avoid visiting acquaintances at hospitals.

“[We] need to respect the senior public and see how we can extend their years,” he said at the press conference.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Director General of the Ministry of Health Moshe Bar Siman-Tov hold a press conference about the coronavirus at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Tuesday introduced limitations for hospital and retirement home visits to reduce the risk to vulnerable populations like the sick and elderly,

The new restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

There have so far been 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Israel, many of them contracted by travelers who recently returned from abroad. There were 12 new confirmed cases in the country Wednesday.

Worldwide, there have been over 118,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 4,300 deaths.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals will be allowed into the country until Thursday at 8 p.m., but after that they will be barred entry unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The quarantine measures are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.

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