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Israel to start mass testing for virus antibodies in next 2 weeks — report

Health Ministry said intending to focus first on virus hotspots, medics and policemen for serological tests, aimed at determining asymptomatic infection rates

A scientist presents an antibody test for coronavirus in a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) at the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany, April 3, 2020. (AP/Jens Meyer)
A scientist presents an antibody test for coronavirus in a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) at the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany, April 3, 2020. (AP/Jens Meyer)

The Health Ministry is planning to introduce widespread coronavirus antibody tests to get an idea of the number of asymptomatic Israelis who are infected but haven’t been tested for the virus, a report said Tuesday.

The serological tests are not aimed at detecting the virus itself; they detect antibodies, substances that the body makes to fight the virus, which are an indication that the person carrying them is, or was previously, infected.

The antibody tests will be launched over the next two weeks and will focus first on infection hotspots and groups that come into continuous contact with the public, such as medics and policemen, the Haaretz daily reported.

Some 5,000 tests are planned in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, and thousands more will be conducted in other places that have seen many COVID-19 infections.

The aim is to draw conclusions about groups and populations, not about the infection or recovery of individuals, since the tests don’t say whether the person still has the virus.

Israel last month purchased some 2.4 million FDA-approved serological tests for NIS 110 million ($31 million), to be used during the phase of reopening the economy. The report cited a Health Ministry source as saying they would be ready for use in a week or two.

A recovered coronavirus patient (center) donating plasma for Israel’s new experimental antibodies treatment, and (right) Eilat Shinar. (Magen David Adom)

Health experts around the world have regarded the antibody tests as an acceptable means to determine lockdown policies and for monitoring purposes, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t yet declared that antibodies necessarily mean their carrier has immunity from reinfection.

Despite many reports of reinfections — including at least two cases in Israel — and the WHO saying last month that there was no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected against a second infection, most experts say these reports are likely due to problems with coronavirus tests.

Some experts around the world, including a senior official at the World Health Organization, have argued that reports of reinfected patients have been false positives, with the tests picking up on dead virus fragments.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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