Rapid corona test could save Israel’s hospitals, enable gathering again

Large events and gatherings, such as high school end-of-year parties, turned out to be hot spots for mass infections that led to an increase in morbidity.

AID Genomics Chief Scientific Officer Izhak Haviv (photo credit: SHAI GABRIELY)
AID Genomics Chief Scientific Officer Izhak Haviv
(photo credit: SHAI GABRIELY)
An Israeli company that developed a 45-75 minute testing kit believes that it could be the key to ensuring that Israel’s hospitals do not crack in the winter. It could also enable Israel to reopen events, theaters and other spaces where large crowds gather.

Rehovot-based 
AID Genomics, which works in partnership with China’s BGI Group in Israel, said earlier this month that it developed a PCR testing kit that can determine if a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2 in less than two hours – from the time the test is taken until the answer is received – according to the company’s Chief Scientific Officer Izhak Haviv.

The test is low-cost and can be performed by paramedics, as opposed to lab technicians.

In the winter, when hospitals are inundated with patients having respiratory infections and doctors need to determine if they have COVID-19 or seasonal flu, Haviv said a test like his could make all the difference.

Last week, Prof. Dan Ben-David, president and founder of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, described for The Jerusalem Post what will happen during flu season at Israeli hospitals if the results of coronavirus tests take more than a day and up to several days, as they do now:

“The system will be inundated with people who are sick, not necessarily with COVID. Without the ability to distinguish between them, they are taking up the space of someone who needs space in the hospital. That person’s condition deteriorates; people are not treated in time,” Ben-David described. “Extrapolate onward and understand the magnitude. I do not want to even think about what it could look like. We are heading toward a disaster.”

AID’s test works similarly to the standard PCR molecular swab test, in that a swab is inserted in the nose, extracting RNA for analysis. The RNA is then amplified using enzymes. Haviv said his kit is more sensitive than others and therefore requires less RNA and less amplification time.

The Post spoke to Haviv the day before the government decided to roll out a new set of coronavirus restrictions, which shut down most places of gathering and limited congregating in general to 10 people inside and 20 outside.

Over the weekend, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center reported information that supported the government’s decision: Large events and gatherings, such as high school end-of-year parties, turned out to be hot spots for mass infections that led to an increase in morbidity, both among the people who attended them and their family members.

“An end-of-year party held in June at the initiative of high school students in the center of the country resulted in the infection of about 40 high school students and at least a similar number of people in their first and second circles of infections,” the report explained.

The aim of the AID Genomics test kit is exactly these kinds of parties, Haviv said, plus sporting events and cultural activities – anywhere that people gather.

The idea would be to test anyone planning to attend the event that morning or a couple of hours before the event, and weed out the people who are infected with corona.

“Only people not currently contagious could attend,” Haviv said. “We could enable large, multi-participant events.”

The kit has still not received regulatory approval, but will be submitted for review worldwide in the next two weeks. The company has provided kits and set up analysis centers at six Health Ministry labs; Haviv said he hopes that the kit will be on the market by the fall.