Israel to use Weizmann Institute to test 1,000 daily for coronavirus

The Health Ministry signed an agreement with the Weizmann Institute of Science on Friday to use its advanced laboratories to perform coronavirus tests. According to the ministry, testing will start immediately and the labs will be able to screen about 1,000 people per day.

The news comes on the backdrop of a contract signed earlier in the week between the Health and Defense ministries and BGI, a Chinese genome sequencing company. BGI will provide equipment and materials that will allow for around 10,000 coronavirus tests a day, according to a Health Ministry release. The equipment will be placed in six Health Fund labs within the next two to three weeks. The total cost of the procurement is estimated at NIS 90 million.

“We are glad for the cooperation with the Health Ministry and the trust they’ve placed in us to carry out this important national mission,” said Snir Zano, the CEO of AID Genomics, BGI’s partner in Israel.

The Health Ministry has committed to doing a minimum of 10,000 and up to 30,000 tests per day, but working with Magen David Adom, it has yet to reach those numbers. The Health Ministry released a testing report on Saturday that showed a sharp decrease in the number of tests per day. On April 3, the number of tests peaked at 9,903 and has since decreased almost daily. On April 10, the Health Ministry reported screening only 5,980 people.

Nearly each week, the ministry has reported missing test kit components, from swabs to liquid test tubes and reagents, the chemical compound used to extract the virus’s DNA from the samples and thus identify if a person being tested is positive.

On Thursday night, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called once again for his ministry and the IDF to be given immediate responsibility for the tests in an effort to curb the virus, warning that the country risks not only being unable to exit the crisis, but that it risks a renewed outbreak of the epidemic.

The Knesset Coronavirus Committee also questioned the Health Ministry’s testing policy earlier this week, saying it is difficult to determine whether the ministry’s decision to limit the number of coronavirus screenings conducted per day was due to a medical philosophy or because “there were simply not enough test kits and our laboratories were not prepared.”

It recommended that the ministry alter its testing policy so that it is no longer limited to people who are experiencing disease symptoms, as is currently the case – except for a relatively small number of monitoring tests. Rather, it said, three main at-risk groups should be checked regularly, in cycles of one to several days and with a fixed percentage of tests: populations at risk (elderly people, people with background illnesses); medical staff; and staff dealing with at-risk populations.

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov expanded screenings specifically in nursing homes a day after the Knesset report was published, so that now when one resident or staff member falls ill with coronavirus, all of the residents and staff will be tested. On Passover, some 3,000 tests were made in nursing homes. It is unclear how many have been taken in senior homes since then.

Font: The Jerusalem Post

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