Israeli Parents Scramble to Prove Kids Are COVID Negative on Chaotic First Day of Restrictions

Israel's Health Ministry worked up to the last minute to arrange the rapid COVID testing required for children between 3 and 11 to enter public venues, but in the end, there were long waits and no clear information

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A child is tested for the coronavirus at Magen David Adom facilities in Jerusalem, Israel, yesterday.
A child is tested for the coronavirus at Magen David Adom facilities in Jerusalem, Israel, yesterday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's Green Pass coronavirus restrictions were reintroduced and expanded Wednesday, causing confusion and frustration among an Israeli public largely unfamiliar with the details of the new rules.

The new restrictions require children between the ages of 3 and 11 undergo a rapid antigen swab test prior to seeking admission to the majority of public venues, including swimming pools, fitness centers, cultural and sports events, museums, libraries, restaurants and hotels.

The Green Pass also grants admission to these venues to those who present proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus, but children under the age of 12 are generally not yet authorized to be vaccinated. (Shopping malls and retail stores are subject to separate restrictions).

The rapid testing requirement is a major change for parents who are attempting to keep their children occupied during the final days of summer vacation. Additionally, the rapid antigen test only grants children a Green Pass for 24 hours – meaning children would need to get tested every day anew if seeking admission to public facilities.

The Health Ministry worked up to the last minute to arrange rapid testing services, but in the end, there were major glitches in the system and the public was left without clear information.

In the greater Tel Aviv area, many parents went to bed Tuesday thinking that the Magen David Adom emergency medical organization would be offering rapid testing at no charge. In the morning, however, it transpired that another supplier, Ichilov Well, had been the successful bidder for the service. Many parents went to Magen David Adom facilities only to discover that they could not obtain free rapid testing there.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, the ministry announced that Magen David Adom would also provide the testing at no charge. Due to the crush of people seeking to have their children tested, the ministry also announced that it was working to expand the number of testing sites, particularly where demand is at its highest.

Some parents reported long waits to get their children tested. A father of an 8-year-old son from Modi’in who needed a test to have his son admitted to a swimming practice said they had to wait an hour and a half at a testing site at a Holmes Place fitness center in the city. There was only one person taking sample swabs, he said.

“If there had been three stations, I assume that it would have gone quickly. People weren’t angry and showed understanding. They were mainly disappointed, but it’s possible that these were the birth pangs of the first day,” he said.

On the positive side, he said, he received his son’s test result on his cellphone in just 10 minutes. “From that standpoint, it worked well,” he acknowledged.

One major change in the Green Pass regulations that took effect on Wednesday is that unvaccinated individuals 12 and over who seek coronavirus tests must now pay for them out of pocket. The Health Ministry emphasized that the standard PCR COVID test, results from which take longer, are not valid for entry to locations and events subject to the Green Pass and therefore unvaccinated individuals who are 12 or older are now required to pay for the rapid tests prior to being admitted to these public venues.

In light of the fact that Israelis 12 and over can get vaccinated (unless they have a medical reason not to), many have argued that the testing fees are a tax of sorts on those refusing inoculation, but Health Ministry officials have said that their intent is to reduce the strain on the network of standard PCR testing sites at the country’s four health maintenance organizations and elsewhere, where testing is considered a medical diagnostic tool.

At the same time, Israel is launching an extensive effort to conduct blood testing in children between the ages of 3 and 11 in order to detect coronavirus antibodies. The endeavor has three goals – to identify children who have been infected with the coronavirus and who have recovered but were never diagnosed; to gauge the extent of undiagnosed infection around the country; and to expand the number of children who are exempt from quarantine requirements because they can be considered recovered patients.

The blood testing campaign, which is being carried out by the Home Front Command of the Israeli army, began last week in ten ultra-Orthodox communities. It revealed that nearly 20 percent of the children between 3 and 11 had been infected and had recovered from COVID-19 without been diagnosed. As of next week, the campaign is expected to be expanded throughout the country and to include other sectors of the population.

For that purpose, the Home Front Command is training more than 1,400 testing personnel in an effort to reach more of the 1.4 million children in that age group. It is thought that the percentage of children in the general population who have contracted the coronavirus and recovered from it without knowing is lower than in the ultra-Orthodox population, but still significant.

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