The Health Ministry said it will expand and increase rapid virus testing services, after the first day of new coronavirus restrictions requiring children over age 3 to be tested before entering venues resulted in long lines and confusion and left many parents irritated.
Among the restrictions that came into effect Wednesday was the expansion of the Green Pass system, which grants access to venues or events only to those carrying documentation showing that they are vaccinated, recovered, or took a negative PCR test in the previous 72 hours. Alternatively, the unvaccinated can take a rapid virus test.
The state is subsidizing rapid COVID-19 tests for children aged 3-11, who are ineligible for the vaccine, while tests for those ages 12 and up have to be paid for out of pocket.
Rapid testing stations, particularly in the central region of the country, were swamped Wednesday morning by families seeking to have children tested in order to enjoy summer activities, including entrance to swimming pools and hotels. Confusion over where testing could be done for free added to the woes.
By the afternoon the Health Ministry announced it would take steps to improve the situation.
The Health Ministry also announced that all Magen David Adom-operated stations will offer virus tests subsidized by the government to those under 12 and that anyone who already paid for a test during the day will be eligible for a refund.
There had been a misunderstanding for many regarding the MDA stations, as the organization was conducting subsidized rapid testing Wednesday morning at its sites all over the country, except in the central region, where the Ichilov Well group had been awarded the rights to perform the service. In the central region, MDA stations demanded payment for testing, to the puzzlement of many parents who were unaware of the arrangement.
In addition, the ministry said, more testing stations would be opened and more staff employed at each site, in order to speed up the process of being swabbed. The stations would also open earlier in the day, at 8 a.m.
During the day some parents said that due to the large numbers of people arriving at the virus testing stations, they were forced to wait, even though they had booked test appointments before arriving.
One father from Modiin told the Haaretz daily that he had waited an hour and a half to carry out a test for his son.
“Because there was only one tester it was slow and took a long time,” said the father, who was not named in the report. “If there were three stations I suppose it would run faster.”
On the other hand, the father said the test results were sent to his phone within ten minutes.
“In that sense, it worked well,” he said.
Revital and Avi Yakoel from Pardes Hannah took their family to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo where, along with others, they waited three hours to have virus tests done at a station located there.
“The children have already lost patience,” she said, adding that the crowded conditions among those waiting for tests are a danger for virus spread.
“The crowding in the line creates a gathering that endangers us much more than walking through the zoo, which is an open space,” she said.
Venue operators also struggled to apply the rules.
Natan Moreh, a shift manager at the Perugino restaurant in Netanya, said there was confusion among some clients as to how the new rules work and not all showed understanding for the situation.
“There are those who start to get annoyed, and it doesn’t matter how much you explain to a person that there is nothing that can be done [about the rules] — it is insulting,” he told Ynet. “It is hard for me to tell someone to get up and go.”
Since the tests are valid only for 24 hours, many parents are giving up on plans to take their children to leisure sites, according to Hebrew media reports.
Ofir Miller, chairman of the board of the Israel Attractions Association, whose members operate leisure and entertainment sites across the county, told Channel 12 there was a 50 percent drop in visits to attractions on Wednesday.
He said venue operators were caught between the need to maintain a viable business and the obligation to comply with health regulations.
“If we have to choose between bringing home the bread and cooperating with the government — that’s a difficult question,” Miller said.
Israel on Wednesday reimposed caps on gatherings and reintroduced rules requiring social distancing in businesses, amid soaring COVID-19 infection rates around the country.
The restrictions are aimed at slowing down a recent resurgence of coronavirus infections that have taken the daily caseload to highs not seen for half a year, after the country had reduced the spread to barely a dozen new cases a day, on average.
The rules apply to sports and culture events, conferences, exhibitions, hotels, gyms, pools, event halls and venues, festivals, restaurants, bars, cafes, dining rooms, museums, libraries, tourist attractions, and universities and colleges.
Health Ministry officials say that requiring payment for tests on those 12 and over is not about taxing those who are not vaccinated but rather is aimed at reducing the volume of testing that is done, including PCR tests, and so take the strain off HMOs and labs that are processing tests for diagnosis, Haaretz reported.
The government is determined to avoid ordering what would be the country’s fourth lockdown since the coronavirus pandemic started, and is pushing vaccinations, along with some restrictions, as a way to confront a tide of infections expected before morbidity drops again.
Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed there were 7,856 new cases diagnosed the day before. The number of seriously ill, which the government has set as an indicator of the scale of the outbreak, climbed by another eight after midnight to 603 by Thursday morning.
There were 62,163 active virus patients, the ministry said. Since the start of the pandemic, 6,726 people have died of COVID-19 in Israel.