Health Ministry to Increase Corona Testing From 700 to 2,200 per Day

The stepped up pace is to be achieved by opening new labs and training more staffers, health officials say

The coronavirus testing lab at the Sheba Medical Center.
Tomer Appelbaum

Within a week, the Health Ministry intends to increase the number of daily tests for coronavirus from the current 700 to 2,200. This is to be achieved by opening new laboratories and training additional staff, health officials said.

At this stage, the number of tests performed is a major factor in containing the virus and provides a way of assessing its nature and its spread, health experts said. So far 5,800 people have been tested for the virus in Israel.

In the next few days, five new laboratories will be added to the four already operating at Sheba, Soroka, Hadassah and Rambam hospitals. The ministry is working to open others as well.

“The number of tests is too small. We don’t have adequate information about the virus here and this affects all the decisions and guidelines regarding it,” said a health official on the team dealing with the epidemic.

The corona tests in Israel are based on a laboratory method developed in Germany and then validated locally, rather than through the use of a commercial company’s test kits, as is happening in some countries.

“In South Korea,15,000 tests are performed a day with testing kits developed by four local biotech companies, and one in 300 people there has already taken the test,” an infectious disease expert said.

“In Israel, the test is a local one and doesn’t come ready-made. It takes longer to prepare,” he said.

The waiting time for a laboratory result in Israel is about four hours and the entire process takes six to seven hours. Increasing the number of tests also involves stocking the laboratories with more materials, preparing suitable conditions for gathering samples and taking safety measures.

In the last few days, with the rise in the number of people infected by the virus, there have been complaints that the number of tests is too low and that the Health Ministry has taken too long to open new labs.

In the initial weeks of the outbreak, the only laboratory conducting testing for the virus was the national Health Ministry laboratory at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.