Israeli Army Returns Soldiers Who Tested Positive With Coronavirus to Their Bases

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Israeli soldiers at the Central station in Jerusalem, last month.
Israeli soldiers at the Central station in Jerusalem, last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Israeli army has returned a few conscript and career army soldiers to duty despite them testing positive with the coronavirus several days earlier, in accordance with a new Health Ministry guideline that provided the loophole for the move to be authorized.

The guideline states that a person infected with the virus can be considered a recovered patient after 30 days if they have not had any symptoms in the preceding 48 hours, even if a PCR test at the end of this period gives a positive reading. This is meant only for people who were not hospitalized throughout the period they were carrying the virus.

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The soldiers returning to duty were in isolation for a month at the Harlington Hotel in Ashkelon, alongside dozens of other people, after the army closed down a recuperation village for soldiers. Last week, members of the army’s medical corps came to the hotel and tested soldiers for the virus, to check if they had recovered. Even though some tests came out positive, medical corps staff ordered them to return to base.

These soldiers, combatants from several units including elite reconnaissance units and pilot trainees, were sent home for the weekend and told to report for duty last Sunday.

The Health Ministry’s new procedure, which is based on a timeline of recovery, was announced last week after professionals, including teams charged with care for epidemic victims, had debated this issue over the preceding weeks. These teams supported the decision, partly due to the fact that there is no clinical, laboratory or epidemiological evidence suggesting that there is a risk of infection by people only slightly affected who have been in isolation for 30 days. However, these teams noted that knowledge of this is limited and that most countries are not using this method for determining the recovery of patients. According to data they presented, in 86 percent of slightly ill patients who recovered without hospitalization, the disease did not last for more than 30 days.

However, there are people who contest the wisdom of this guideline. “I’m not at peace with it and I don’t think the soldiers should have returned to their bases and courses before testing negative for the virus twice” said the director of the infectious diseases epidemiology unit at the Sheba Medical Center, Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, in conversation with Haaretz.

She added that the results from tests for infectious potential done at the Institute for Biological Research were preliminary and borderline. “The picture is still unclear and I think it’s too early to give such a sweeping guideline – more confirmed data is required” she noted.

The IDF spokesman said in response that “the IDF is operating according to Health Ministry guidelines. The most updated ones say that recovery based on time elapsed since a patient is diagnosed is defined only for slightly ill patients who have not been hospitalized at all. A sick patient is defined as recovered if 30 days have passed from the first positive test, and if 48 hours have passed since the last symptoms were evident.”

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