Under New Israeli Testing Rules, COVID Case Counts Lose Importance (VIDEO REPORT)
Most will have to pay to get tested under new directives; medical workers report high interest among public to receive fourth dose
Israel has registered an all-time high in COVID-19 cases, but the country’s pandemic statistics might soon mean very little as new testing directives come into effect.
As the world grapples with the extremely contagious omicron variant, Israel on Wednesday said that it had recorded 11,978 cases a day earlier – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Amid long lines at testing sites around the country, the Israeli government has decided to change its approach to testing.
As of Friday, only people over the age of 60 or those deemed to be at-risk will be able to receive a free PCR test.
Nearly everyone else will have to pay for rapid antigen at-home tests unless they are willing to make the journey to a handful of Magen David Adom clinics in their city of residence for a free supervised test.
This effectively means that many, who had until now relied on free tests, might be less willing to pay out of pocket. Rapid antigen tests have also been shown to have reduced sensitivity to the omicron variant.
The new directives suggest that COVID case counts might be losing their importance in Israel.
“The decision was taken so that we can find those who are at-risk, intervene and prevent serious illness,” Nachman Ash, the director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, told journalists.
“We are looking less and less at the number of positive cases, but we still want to maintain the tools that will enable us to prevent infections as much as possible,” he said. “We’re in a different era.”
The vaccine remains the Health Ministry’s weapon of choice in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Israel became the first country in the world to offer a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Currently, people aged 60 and over as well as health workers are eligible to receive it.
At a vaccination clinic operated by the Meuhedet medical services organization in Jerusalem, many lined up for the shot.
Including 64-year-old Hubert, who told The Media Line that he was more than happy to roll up his sleeve for a fourth time.
“There are many people who are skeptical about the fourth dose but I trust the experts,” he said.
Others admitted that they had relatives who were more reluctant to get vaccinated.
“I have a son-in-law who’s against it and I can’t convince him,” Ruth Gabbay, a 71-year-old fourth dose recipient, told The Media Line. “But everybody has a free choice.”
Due to a longstanding shortage of healthcare workers, paramedics, medics and nurses in training have all been enlisted to help in nationwide vaccination efforts.
Stav Mizrachi, 22, first joined Meuhedet last year after having been discharged as an army medic just months earlier.
“It’s important to come and get vaccinated, to be aware of our environment and to protect one another from the coronavirus,” she related to The Media Line. “I’m happy to be a part of the battle against the virus.”
Overall, most eligible Jerusalem residents were enthusiastic about coming in to get the fourth jab.
“The public has shown a strong interest in getting the fourth dose,” Galia Kuno, Meuhedet’s head nurse for the Jerusalem region, told The Media Line. “All of Jerusalem’s clinics have been busy thanks to people coming in to get vaccinated. There’s a big demand, which we’re happy about.”