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Israel to Start Using Rapid Tests as New Restrictions Require Eventgoers to Prove Immunity

New coronavirus restrictions require unvaccinated Israelis who haven't recovered from COVID in the past to present negative test results to access certain venues. But what's the difference between the two kinds of tests?

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A medical worker displays a negative rapid – or antigen – coronavirus test at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, on Monday.
A medical worker displays a negative rapid – or antigen – coronavirus test at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, on Monday.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Alongside new restrictions to curb the latest coronavirus outbreak, starting on Sunday, unvaccinated Israelis will be able to use rapid COVID tests to gain entry to events that require a green passport. But how does it work, where is it valid and how does it differ with the PCR swab test? Haaretz explains.

What are the new restrictions?

Attendance for certain events and entry to certain places will now require a Green Pass – that is, proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID or a negative test result. These tests can either be a rapid test performed up to 24 hours earlier, or a regular PCR test performed up to 72 hours earlier, which will no longer be free for unvaccinated people (unless there is a reason they cannot be vaccinated).

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These rules will apply at first to anyone age 12 and older, and from August 20, to children under 12 as well. Starting on Sunday, anyone at an outdoor gathering of 100 people or more will have to wear a mask.

What venues and events will require the Green Pass?

According to the Health Ministry, the green passport will be required for cultural and sporting events, hotels, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, coffee shops and houses of worship. It will apply to both indoor and outdoor spaces, no matter how many people are gathered, except for houses of worship, where the Green Pass will be in effect only when more than 50 people are present.

What public venues will the Green Pass not apply to?

The Green Pass will not apply to shops, malls, swimming pools, libraries, national parks or nature reserves, and any other public place not specifically mentioned.

What is the difference between PCR tests and the new rapid testing?

Until Sunday, anyone who was not vaccinated or recovered from COVID would have to take a test – at no charge – up to 72 hours before attending an event or entering a venue.

From Sunday onward, places that require a green passport will only allow entry to unvaccinated people who have not previously recovered from COVID will only be allowed entry upon the presentation of a negative result from a rapid test or a private PCR test, at their own expense.

What is a rapid test?

The rapid test, also called an antigen test, is a complementary means to the swab test (or PCR test) to detect the coronavirus. It also uses a swab, but comes in a kit that does not need to be transported to a laboratory. The rapid test kit is easier and cheaper to manufacture than the regular swab test, and the result comes between 15 and 30 minutes, compared to a few days for the PCR test.

Unlike the PCR test, which identifies the genetic material of the coronavirus, the antigen test identifies parts of the protein in or on the virus.

Is the antigen test reliable?

The rapid test is considered less reliable than the PCR test, but the Health Ministry has deemed it satisfactory as far as the Green Pass is concerned. According to the Health Ministry, the chance that a person who has been infected with the virus will receive a positive result from the rapid test is between 85 and 96.7 percent, while the chance that a non-infected person will receive a negative result is close to 100 percent.

For the PCR test, the likelihood of a person infected with the coronavirus receiving a positive result is nearly 95 percent, while a non-infected person has nearly a 100 percent chance of receiving a negative result.

What do I do if I receive a positive result from the rapid test?

According to the Health Ministry, anyone who gets a positive result from a rapid test must immediately go into quarantine and take a PCR test within 48 hours. A negative result from the PCR test means a person no longer needs to be quarantined.

Where can I take the rapid test?

The Health Ministry gave six companies the green light to provide the tests, and 45 companies and organizations will administer them throughout the country, including the Home Front Command testing sites. In addition, venues that require green passports can administer the tests at the door, in coordination with the Health Ministry and the companies that supply the testing kits.

How much does the rapid test cost, and who pays for it?

The rapid test costs 69 shekels (about $21), but the price may fall due to competition among providers. The Health Ministry will pay for tests for children under age 12, who have not yet been approved for vaccination, but those 12 and over will have to pay for their own tests.

Where can I take a private PCR test?

Private PCR tests are currently administered at some hospitals, as well as pharmacy chains like Super-Pharm and Be, and Bikurofeh clinics. Private tests are also administered at some Magen David Adom facilities.

How long does it take for the results of a PCR test to come in?

The results usually come within 24 hours from the test.

How much does a private PCR test cost?

A private PCR test costs between 99 and 300 shekels. In this case as well, the price will likely go down as competition increases among providers.

Can the rapid test and PCR test be used for the same things?

No. Rapid test results are valid for 24 hours, and can only be used for entrance to events and venues that require a green passport. Private PCR test results are valid for 72 hours, and beyond the green passport, can be used by people who are about to travel abroad.

So you can't use the rapid test before you travel abroad?

Not at the moment, because many countries do not recognize it.

Can children under age 12 take the rapid test?

Yes. At this point, the Green Pass does not apply to children under age 12, and they don’t need to be tested. But children can only attend weddings, concerts, celebrations and parties if they show a negative rapid test or private PCR test result.

Is there a difference between rapid tests and home tests?

Yes, definitely. Pharmacies will soon start selling home COVID testing kits, which will be a preliminary diagnostic tool. This type of test has been approved by the Health Ministry for at-home use, but, as of now, it cannot be used as proof of a positive or negative test result. Its purpose is only to provide a preliminary indication of a person’s condition. The test is fairly accurate, but an infected person may receive a false negative if their viral load is low.

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