Coronavirus Testing Rate in Israel to Remain Low During Passover

Daily tests not expected to reach the 30,000 target set by Netanyahu or even the heath care system’s goal of 10,000 in the near future due to a lack of crucial chemicals

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A drive-thru testing station in the city of Tiberias, April 2020.
A drive-thru testing station in the city of Tiberias, April 2020.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

The number of diagnostic tests for the coronavirus is not expected to reach the pace of 30,000 per day that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set as a target in the near future, or even the 10,000 per day that the health care system set for itself.

The shortfall in testing levels, which is the result of a shortage of the ribonucleic acid – RNA – required for the first stage of the lab tests, is reflected in official data obtained by Haaretz, showing testing targets for the seven-day Passover holiday which begins Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the eve of Passover, the Magen David Adom emergency medical service plans to perform about 6,000 to be followed from Thursday through Saturday by 7,000 a day. On Sunday and Monday of next week, MDA will increase the pace of testing with a goal of about 8,500 tests per day.

Next Tuesday, the eve of the second holy day of the Passover holiday, and on the actual holy day on Wednesday, the testing will again be at reduced levels, but it is slated to reach 9,000 on Thursday of next week.

Testing capacity declined last week after, according to laboratory officials, supplies of substances manufactured in Germany and South Korea that are necessary to perform the tests were cut off. The worst of the problem was felt last weekend, when priority had to be given to tests for patients in the hospital over samples collected by MDA at patients’ homes and drive-through testing facilities.

In a break with prior practice, since Thursday, the Health Ministry has not released official figures on the scale of testing for the coronavirus but Haaretz has learned that on Sunday, 7,659 lab tests were performed.

At the beginning of the week, the ministry issued a statement saying that it was “working in cooperation with all those involved – the Defense Ministry’s procurement administration, the army and the Mossad [intelligence service] – to strive and meet the goal of 10,000 tests a day.”

The ministry also said it was in touch with other suppliers to boost the daily testing pace to more than 10,000 samples a day in about two weeks. But from information in official documentation as well as according to sources at laboratories, it appears that adapting the new chemicals for use in the testing will take longer than that.

The replacement chemicals are coming from the United States, the sources said, and they will still be in limited supply. New shipment of the substances are due to arrive and be distributed among the various labs.

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