Israel is working on a system to conduct genetic scanning for all those who arrive in the country in order to better identify travelers infected with the coronavirus, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at a cabinet meeting Sunday.
Bennett told ministers that the system will eventually be deployed at Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main international terminus.
“We are working on a scanning system for everyone who comes into Israel,” Bennett said, according to comments from the meeting leaked to Hebrew media. “Israel will thus become the radar for the virus.”
No further details about the system or how it would work were reported by Hebrew media.
Bennett expressed support for Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, who had warned that “the next variant will come to Israel through Ben Gurion,” saying the proposed genetic testing would help prevent that from happening.
The development came as the cabinet reviewed various aspects of the campaign to confront a recent wave of virus infections fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has largely been attributed to infected travelers who did not properly quarantine after arriving in Israel.
The government has made vaccination against COVID-19 a central strategy to curb the spread, including offering third booster shots to all those over the age of 12. At the meeting, Bennett said: “We have run out of patience for people who are not vaccinated.”
“The coronavirus has become a matter for those who are not vaccinated,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said. “Refraining from vaccination simply causes death.”
So far, 6,039,846 of Israel’s 9.3 million citizens have had a least one dose of the vaccine, 5,542,582 have had two, and 2,841,383 have had three, according to Health Ministry figures.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai called during the meeting for all civil servants, which would include school teachers, to be required to get vaccinated. Currently, teachers who are not vaccinated can continue to work if they take virus tests every few days, which they are required to pay for themselves.
Ministers gave their backing for a plan under which only infected schoolchildren are required to enter quarantine, while their classmates can simply take a virus test. Those who are negative would then be able to immediately return to class.
Currently, all students in a class must isolate for a week if a case is discovered. Less than two weeks after the start of the school year, there are already over 150,000 students in quarantine due to infection or being exposed to an infected person. Over half the recent new cases each day in the country have been schoolkids.
“We need to find a solution to quarantines,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said. “Over 90 percent of those who go into quarantine are in the end found to be negative.”
“Therefore in risk management, it may be that the right thing to do is to isolate only those who are diagnosed,” she said.
Shasha-Biton said that a pilot of the so-called “Green Classes” idea that would only quarantine infected students will first be tried in Arab schools.
Horowitz supported Shasha-Biton, saying that from October it will be possible to only require only those students confirmed to be infected to enter isolation while their classmates can just take virus tests.
Bennett said the idea will be adopted.
“There is a tremendous desire that the entire class not go into quarantine,” he said.
Bennett said that after the ongoing holiday period that ends later this month, there will be a “massive” round of self-testing among students in an effort to catch infections that happened during the holidays.
The prime minister said the distribution of the self-test kits will not be via the schools themselves, as was the case for a similar testing campaign ahead of the school year’s start that ran into logistic problems in some areas. Millions of students used the kits to test at home and then bring a signed note from their parents confirming they were negative when they started school.
Bennett said that in another change, a method of using barcodes to track the self-testing was being worked on to seal “holes” in the signed note system, namely that some parents were lying about their kids getting the negative result.
“It seems we will tighten up the method so that everyone will be equipped with a barcode,” he said. “We are working on this and will notify ahead of time.”
Ministers also discussed the long lines that formed at some rapid testing centers last week, with some people waiting hours to get themselves and their families tested. Social Equality Minister Cohen, who said she herself had experienced waiting in line with her children for tests, urged that steps be taken to improve the process.
“There are difficulties and overloads and there are lines because we are in the midst of an outbreak,” Horowitz said.
Health Ministry figures published Sunday showed that there are 154,000 students in quarantine along with 3,750 members of staff. On Saturday, 5,853 students and staff were diagnosed with the coronavirus. There are over two million students in the Israeli school system.
There were 10,168 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed on Saturday, according to the ministry.
Of the 78,659 active cases, 697 are in serious condition. Since the start of the pandemic last year, 7,383 people have died of COVID-19 in Israel.