Israel's Bennett Calls for Tightening COVID Test Eligibility Criteria Amid Soaring Demand

As Israelis report long lines at testing centers, some having to wait hours, Prime Minister Bennett calls to cap and tighten the criteria for tests ■ Meanwhile, a second antiviral pill against COVID is set to arrive in Israel

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Israelis wait in line for a coronavirus test in central Israel on Sunday.
Israelis wait in line for a coronavirus test in central Israel on Sunday.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Sunday to limit the number of coronavirus tests and tighten the criteria for eligibility due to the limited capacity of testing centers in Israel.

At a cabinet meeting, Bennett addressed the issue and asserted that testing of at-risk people and essential workers should be prioritized. In addition, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz called for enlarging supplies of test kits and reducing the number of people getting tested.

Over the weekend and on Sunday, Israelis reported long lines at testing centers, some having to wait for hours. In response, the Health Ministry ordered additional testing stations to be opened. But with experts predicting tens of thousands of newly infected people a day, health officials are worried that demand will skyrocket.

As serious cases continue to rise, renewing anxieties over hospitals' ability to handle the continued influx of patients, the Health Ministry approved a new COVID drug on Sunday that was developed by Merck. The drug, molnupiravir, is an oral antiviral pill given to coronavirus patients during the onset of symptoms.

The ministry signed an agreement to purchase the drug from the pharmaceutical company, and its first shipment is expected to arrive in Israel within days. The approval follows emergency authorization for Pfizer's paxlovid drug last week, making molnupiravir the second drug approved in Israel to treat COVID symptoms.

Prof. Eran Segal, an adviser to the government COVID cabinet, predicted Sunday that "we will pass the peak of the pandemic that we saw in the delta wave” which saw ten thousand cases per day, with Israel likely to "exceed 20,000 daily cases in the coming week... numbers that have not been seen since the pandemic began."

Segal warned that, unless more tests are acquired soon, the country's quarantine program is in jeopardy – without sufficient testing to verify new cases .

On Sunday, Israel recorded a spike in serious COVID cases, to 110 from 94 a week before. The R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – also went up to its highest level since June – from 1.76 to 1.84. Any number above 1 means the pandemic is spreading.

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