Why is the Health Ministry preventing 20,000 daily coronavirus tests?

It’s been three weeks since news broke that the Weizmann Institute can conduct so many COVID-19 checks – so why isn’t it? "This can be the game changer Israel needs to combat the virus."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adn Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman address the nation on the coronavirus epidemic, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adn Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman address the nation on the coronavirus epidemic, March 4, 2020
The Health Ministry is blocking the Weizmann Institute of Science from conducting 20,000 daily coronavirus tests, three weeks after news broke out that such a step is possible, Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.  
At the time of this writing, the Health Ministry is blocking the Weizmann Institute, using various pretexts, and limiting its ability to possibly aid the re-starting of Israel’s economy which is suffering under the policies of lockdowns and home quarantine.
Another issue is how the ministry allegedly used a questionnaire designed by the institute without first paying to use it. 
400,000 Israelis have already filled out the questionnaire.  
Writing in Maariv, Ben Caspit suggested that the first place where a serious inquiry should be held is the Weizmann Institute itself, to decide why its capacity to run 20,000 daily COVID-19 checks was never tapped, weeks after his paper broke the news that such an option is ready to be implemented.  
Top-placed sources within the institute, the health system and the Defense Ministry told Caspit that the Health Ministry is shooting down such projects on a daily basis. Without precise knowledge about how many Israelis have the virus and where they reside, decision makers are unable to combat the outbreak without resorting to a policy of lockdowns and home quarantine, which in turn is shutting down the economy and costing nearly one million citizens their jobs.  
“Our labs had been good to go for a while now,” an official in the institute told Caspit. “When we tell them it’s ready they invent some new regulation." The official said that the last time this happened was on Monday night.  
“One can lose one’s mind with anger,” he said.  
Caspit suggests that this is a meeting of two very different organizational cultures: the innovative Israeli one of 2020 and the ossified office regulations of the ministry.  
In addition, the ministry chose to ignore a questionnaire created by professors Eran Segal and Benny Geiger to map the spread of COVID-19 in the country, opting instead to hire a firm which uses a very similar format – this after the institute's professors had already gathered information from 400,000 Israelis.  
“Not only do they [at the ministry] not adapt the format,” a source within the health service industry told Caspit, “they try to copy it in an amateurish way and split the effort.”  
At the moment, the institute is able to use its existing labs to handle thousands of samples per day and also has a new process that, if adopted, can examine up to 20,000 samples per day. Caspit is adamant that this innovative process can be the game changer Israel needs to combat the virus.  
The Weizmann Institute is not the only place held back by the ministry – another is Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem.  
Weeks ago, the ministry resisted offering checks on a massive scale and insisted that social distancing and quarantine are the best ways to handle the outbreak. The argument at the time was that such a policy would prevent the virus from infecting others and that people might get infected on their way back from the check, meaning that even if the check is negative, they could have already contracted the virus.  
Some suggested that there are other reasons for the policy. The possibilities discussed in the Israeli media included a shortage of check kits; an unwillingness to reveal which communities in the country have the most cases fearing political fallout should they be haredi communities; and even that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, allegedly, actively decides to prepare for the worst scenario and is rejecting other, less apocalyptic ones.  
A high-placed official in the public health service system told Caspit that it’s Netanyahu against Defense Minister Nafatli Bennett.
There are “all sort of struggles that prevent us from doing our job right,” he said. “Rather than focusing on the struggle at hand, we have wars among the ministries.”  
Caspit suggests that the coronavirus outbreak should have been assigned to Home Front Command, which is much better suited to handle such events than the Health Ministry.  
“Not only do they [at the ministry] fail to see their own limitations,” an official in the security services told Caspit, “they try to thwart efforts made by others who are trying to push forward.”