Israel’s Health Ministry ups testing to include asymptomatic as infection surge spikes fears

After numerous new outbreaks across the country, Health Minister Edelstein changes policy and pushes aggressive testing even for people with no symptoms.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Following an alarming rise in infections, Israel on Monday launched a new policy to test anybody who was in contact with a person infected with the coronavirus, even if they are not showing symptoms.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein apparently overruled members of his own staff, and the ministry will now test all immediate family members of an infected person both at the time the infection was discovered and again after five days.

Edelstein announced the change in policy Sunday evening after everyone from a Jerusalem high school was put in quarantine when an apparent “super-spreader” infected over 100 students and staff in the worst concentrated outbreak since restrictions were eased in May.

“So far, we have conducted such tests in Jerusalem around the schools,” Edelstein said. “From now on we will extend the tests without any symptoms to the entire country and not just to schools.”

I heard claims that not everyone who asked to be tested had been tested. We are also addressing this issue and are introducing the [new] policy,” the minister said.

Edelstein acknowledged there were arguments about the amount of testing required and “it is no secret that there is disagreement among the professionals. It ranges from those who say it is not important to those who say that the general population should be checked.”

After media reports over the weekend showed huge crowds on beaches and in clubs not following health guidelines, Edelstein warned the public they had to comply with wearing masks and keeping social distancing or face a return to a lockdown.

“We do not want to be there, so I reiterate the importance of public cooperation,” he said “You all saw what happened last weekend and I don’t think anyone would argue that the rules were strict. Therefore, if we do not want to cross the lines and reach closure again, it is very important on our part to expand the tests and the public to cooperate.”

Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier in the crisis he wanted Israel to reach 30,000 tests daily, only 5,711 tests were performed in total over the past three days. Health officials became alarmed when new infections almost tripled last week from 24 on Wednesday to 64 on Thursday.

Edelstein decided to widen the testing policy after the Jerusalem high school incident and expectations of new outbreaks in the coming days due to the weekend crowding.

The next few days appear to be critical in seeing where the epidemiological trends go given the expected increase in the number of tests.

Outbreaks were reported in other schools around the country, including Kiryat Yearim near Jerusalem.

About 190 children in the third grade and several school staff members entered isolation at a primary school in Beer Sheva over fears a student contracted the virus from her parents.