The number of tests for coronavirus is expected to decrease substantially due to a worldwide shortage of material needed to analyze samples, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming 15,000 tests would be conducted daily from this week.
After coming under fire for adopting a policy of testing only people presenting COVID-19 symptoms or those who had come into contact with confirmed patients, the Health Ministry increased the number of daily tests.
But now the shortage of a key reagent (a substance that causes a chemical reaction), is bringing the number of tests down again and is expected to drop further.
Meanwhile, a Health Ministry official said Saturday that Israel was wrong to assume that a two-week quarantine for anyone entering the country would stop the spread of the virus.
He said such a policy put 100,000 people in isolation and caused immeasurable damage to the economy, but still left the ministry unable to identify clusters of infection before they caused further spread of the virus.
Another official also said the ministry was wrong not to carry out blanket tests of the general public, which resulted in a critical loss of time when fighting the virus.
This choice, he said, "left decision-makers in the dark without the ability to detect where stricter measures should be applied."
He said: "Israel is behind in the worldwide efforts to obtain the necessary supplies and is reverting to its earlier erroneous policy of limiting the number of tests. We do not have the information we need and are not taking the steps we should be taking to stop the spread of the disease."
The official warned that medical teams would be at risk if they were unable to identify COVID-19 cases that arrived in emergency rooms. Other patients who were at greater risk from the virus would so be compromised.
The Health Ministry has failed to conduct the 10,000 tests per day promised by Netanyahu; his assurance that that number would grow to 30,000 tests per day seems unlikely.
On Thursday, 7,294 people were tested, down from 7,833 the day before. No data on the number of tests has been made available since.
According to Israeli media reports, the Health Ministry has moved to block testing technology developed by the Weizmann Institute of Science that would allow tens of thousands of samples to be analyzed per day. According to the reports, requests for an explanation for this have gone unanswered by the ministry.
The Health Ministry criteria for testing has been disregarded by some, including Hadassah Medical Center CEO Prof. Zeev Rotstein who tested his entire staff across both Hadassah campuses twice within five days, detecting 30 carriers of the coronavirus who were then isolated to prevent further spread.
The Health Ministry insists, however, that despite a world-wide shortage of materials, with a spokesman claiming that Israel is "still testing more than many other countries."
He expressed the hope that the shortage of reagent would be resolved by Monday, adding that the ministry was set to finalize a contract with a Chinese company for technology to analyze 30,000 tests a day.