Laboratory heads in Israel have informed the Ministry of Health that the national survey of coronavirus antibodies testing cannot be launched, despite some 250,000 serological test kits being purchased, due to absence of required additional manpower.
The survey was an ambitious project led by outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov, whose goal was to draw a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of the coronavirus in Israel.
Esther Admon, the chair of the Israel Association of Biochemists, Microbiologists and Laboratory Workers on Wednesday sent a letter to Dr. Ruth Yishai, director of the Laboratory Department at the Ministry of Health, explaining why the process to initiate the survey has failed.
"Because the labs were not staffed by skilled personnel licensed to work in our laboratories," Admon wrote, "the pressure within the system has increased greatly and has become unbearable. Lab workers, therefore, cannot perform further tests."
A laboratory director in central Israel said: "We deal with a heavy load of tests compared to the limited number of technicians. When more load is added, it has to come at the expense of something else, such as tests for pregnant women."
Serological tests, as opposed to the standard PCR tests performed today to locate an infection, also detect patients who have recovered and their bodies produce antibodies to the virus, often without subjects knowing they have been infected in the first place.
In an interview given by Bar-Siman-Tov to the New York Times in early May, he stated that serological tests would commence "within a week or two."
However, in an internal correspondence obtained by Ynet last week, it was stated that only recently did the Ministry of Health transfer responsibility for the tests to professional bodies.
Health Ministry officials and health maintenance organizations said they did not know when testing would begin.
"It's a complex and difficult business," a senior Health Ministry official said last week. "We don't know when we'll really start doing the tests.”