Number of coronavirus tests plunges; 103 Israelis dead

Last week, the Health Ministry said it was working towards its target of 10,000 tests per day during the Passover holiday.

Magen David Adom worker wearing protective gear against the coronavirus in Israel (photo credit: FLASH90)
Magen David Adom worker wearing protective gear against the coronavirus in Israel
(photo credit: FLASH90)
The number of coronavirus tests performed in Israel dropped significantly during the past week, data from the Health Ministry showed on Saturday, despite repeated government promises to boost daily checks to tens of thousands of tests.
According to official data published by the ministry, the number of tests carried out at laboratories on Thursday and Friday stood at 5,521 and 5,980, respectively. As recently as Sunday, the number of daily tests reached 9,279.
Last week, the Health Ministry said it was working towards its target of 10,000 tests per day during the Passover holiday, with government officials previously expressing their aspiration to reach 30,000 daily tests.
Explaining the decline, the ministry said it was due to a lack of reagents, a shift to domestically-produced tests and decreased willingness of the public to be tested due to Passover.
The significant drop in coronavirus testing comes amid a steadily increasing death toll, climbing to 103 as of Sunday morning. To date, 10,878 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and 174 patients are in a serious condition, including 123 requiring ventilation. A total of 1,388 patients have recovered from the virus, officially called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV).
“We are dealing with problems, like all countries, in terms of a lack of reagents and lack of swabs,” Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov told Channel 12. “Israel has the same difficulties, but is dealing with them better than other countries. We will reach 10,000 and even 20,000 daily tests.”
On Friday, the Health Ministry signed an agreement with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot to use its advanced laboratories to perform coronavirus tests. Testing is scheduled to start immediately and the labs will be able to screen approximately 1,000 people per day.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered all flights scheduled to land at Ben-Gurion Airport to be halted temporarily on Saturday, after nationals arriving from coronavirus hotspots since the start of Passover – notably from Newark Liberty International Airport – were discovered to have traveled home alone without supervision, rather than being immediately transported to dedicated quarantine facilities across the country.
Flights were permitted to recommence after an emergency government meeting initiated by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, with ministers agreeing that arrivals will be transported to government-funded “coronavirus hotels.” The Defense Ministry will now be in full control of the hotels, the government said.
“The State of Israel will not close its doors to Israelis returning home,” Smotrich said. “I thank the prime minister for making the right, moral decision. All Israelis being responsible for one another is a fundamental element of the State of Israel.”
In a statement, the Israel Airports Authority said the power to prevent entry of individuals into the country was exclusively in the hands of the Population and Immigration Authority, following a public health or court order.
Netanyahu said flights will be permitted once the government green lights an order requiring individuals to be quarantined in facilities. The order was expected to be approved during a cabinet meeting after press time overnight Saturday.
“Israel needs to stop the entry of potentially sick people arriving from abroad. The prime minister made the decision and it needs to be implemented soon,” said Bar Siman Tov, adding that every citizen that arrives will need to spend two weeks in quarantine at a coronavirus hotel.
Health Ministry data released on Saturday continued to show that haredi-dominated (ultra-Orthodox) towns and cities remained Israel’s key coronavirus battlegrounds, with Jerusalem (1,821 cases) and Bnei Brak (1,761) representing the top hotspots nationwide by some margin. Per capita, the hardest-hit locations are Bnei Brak, Efrat and Elad.
For the first time, the ministry also provided information regarding outbreaks in Arab and mixed cities and towns. Locations with the highest rate of infection per capita are Daburiya, Jisr az-Zarqa, Jerusalem (including Jewish neighborhoods), Shibli-Umm al-Ghanam and Jatt.
While existing quarantine measures applied in Bnei Brak were extended on Friday until Wednesday, April 15, government deliberations also continued on Saturday night regarding a lockdown in Jerusalem. Should quarantine measures be implemented in the capital too, movement in Jerusalem will likely be restricted in neighborhoods with high rates of infection.
The IDF, partly tasked with enforcing the lockdown in Bnei Brak, said 115 soldiers are currently diagnosed with coronavirus. A total of 2,876 soldiers are in isolation.
Other issues under consideration by the government include the treatment of the elderly in retirement homes, the evacuation of infected individuals from their homes and a more uniform policy for coronavirus testing.
To assist individuals in severe condition, Magen David Adom and the Health Ministry said on Saturday that it had started treating patients with plasma collected from individuals who recovered from the virus. Two patients have received the plasma infusion to date.
Israel also received essential supplies for fighting coronavirus from three different countries on Saturday, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.
Among the deliveries included 2.4 million doses of chloroquine, a drug usually used to treat malaria, which some have found to be helpful for coronavirus patients. The PMO did not say where the pills came from.
The PMO credited Netanyahu’s personal intervention, contacting the leaders of various countries, with bringing about the supplies’ arrival, together with the Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who is leading the “acquisitions war room” for the coronavirus fight.
In addition, following Netanyahu’s phone call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a delivery arrived from India last week including tons of raw material that can be used to manufacture chloroquine. Netanyahu thanked Modi for making an exception in his country’s no-export rule.
Israel also received 2.5 tons of anesthetics from Italy and millions of pieces of protective gear from China, including masks and coveralls.
From Sunday at 7 a.m., all individuals above 6 years old will be required to wear a mask while outside. The order does not apply to individuals in vehicles and employees working at a safe distance from each other. Public transportation will also recommence operations in a limited format, including the Jerusalem light rail.