Opinion: By promoting less reliable tests, lifting travel restrictions and adjusting quarantine regulations, ministers opt for a semblance of normality, while gambling with public health amid spread of highly contagious Omicron strain

Israel’s new COVID-19 testing policies, which were announced on Wednesday, lack any logic, and I question whether it was decided on after any real consideration.

The new outline clearly prioritizes unvaccinated Israelis, who will be allowed to get PCR tests – the better of all testing options – while the rest of the public will have to rely on the questionable home testing kits.

תורים במתחם בדיקות קורונה בקיסריה
Cars line up for COVID PCR tests on Wednesday (Photo: Gil Nechushtan)


The highly contagious Omicron variant, however, is capable of breaking through the protection barrier provided by vaccines. Why then those who chose not to get vaccinated to begin with are given a preference?

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz decided, for reasons of his own, to announce the new policy over Twitter. “We are moving to home testing,” he said in a post.

But who will be able to test for COVID at home? Only those who can afford to buy a rapid test at a considerable price.

The test is a good option for unvaccinated and a bad one for the population that had received the jabs.

מדף בדיקות הקורונה הביתיות ברשת בי בדיזינגוף סנטר התרוקן והגיע משלוח נוסף של בדיקות
Rapid COVID tests run out in pharmacies (Photo: SIvan Hilai)


The risk of taking home tests is, of course, their unreliability, and many might later discover that they were infected despite their home tests telling them they were not.

Israelis choose to stand in endless lines at the COVID testing sites across the country because they want certainty. The want to know that if they sit down on Friday with their elderly parents, they will not infect them with a potentially deadly disease.

The rapid test, whether administered at home or at Magen David Adom sites, is unreliable when it shows a negative result in the first days of infection – as a recent study conducted in New York showed.

The government is relying on those tests due to fears that medical labs would not be able to cope with the sheer volume of PCR tests arriving at their doorsteps, opting instead to keep that option available for the at-risk population. That is a valid reason.

בדיקות קורונה בתל אביב
PCR tests for COVID in Tel Aviv (Photo: Motti Kimchi)


Data received recently from the UK shows that hospitals were able to deal with the surge in morbidity, while ICUs were not overrun.

Omicron causes a different kind of illness than previous strains and that is good news.

The government is within its right to decide against tough mitigation steps, believing hospitals will be able to cope with the massive surge in cases due to milder nature of the illness caused by Omicron.
But it would have been advisable to make such a decision after serious deliberations, which incredibly, did not take place.

But if the decision is made, then ministers would do better not to bury their heads in the sand and think how to provide critical services to populations that will be increasingly quarantined as morbidity spreads.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett should tell the Finance Ministry to allocate a lot funding to prevent economic collapse when the current infection wave reaches its peak, during which we are set to have up to 50,000 single-day cases.

תורים לבדיקת אנטיגן בכיכר הבימה בתל אביב
Israelis line up in Tel Aviv in front of COVID testing center (Photo: Motti Kimchi)


Instead, he announces that mass contagion is inevitable, and offers an additional vaccine to the vulnerable population. But what are the plans to keep schools and vital services open? Why is there no conversation with the public?

The ministers opted to deny PCR tests to most of the population, lift all restrictions on travel and change quarantine regulations despite the evident risk of contagion, only for the appearance of an open economy.

This is not life alongside the virus, or a way to deal with it. This is a government choosing the easy way out, praying their gamble pays off.

Let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

As reported by Ynetnews