Israel Earmarks COVID PCRs For High-Risk Groups, Expands Home-Testing

Jerusalem (Reuters) -
COVID-19 rapid antigen tests for Israeli kids, seen at a temporary testing station in Yerushalayim. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel changed its COVID-19 quarantine and testing policy on Wednesday in what the Health Ministry described as an effort to ensure continued protection for vulnerable populations from a surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant.

PCR tests will be earmarked for people aged 60 and over or with weak immune systems, while those at lower risk will be checked with rapid antigen tests, ministry officials said.

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 and who have been exposed to carriers will be allowed to make initial determinations of whether or not they should quarantine with home testing kits.

“This is a significant change intended to identify risk populations sooner, intervene and prevent severe disease. We are now looking even less at infection [rates],” ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said at a news conference.

Israel hopes its stocks of Pfizer Inc and Merck & Co Inc’s antiviral COVID-19 medications will help keep hospital admissions and severe cases down, even as daily cases are expected to rise to record highs in the coming weeks.

The new policy will come into effect on Friday, Jan. 7, the ministry said.

Israel has confirmed around 1.4 million infections since the start of the pandemic and more than 8,000 deaths. About 60% of its 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry. It began administering a fourth dose of vaccinations to high-risk groups this week.