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Some travelers landing at Ben Gurion waiting 10 days for COVID test results

Ten days after returning to the country, some 3,000 Israelis still have not received results for the coronavirus tests administered to them at Ben Gurion Airport, Israeli television reported Monday.

The Health Ministry told Channel 12 it was aware of the problem and that only people who tested negative for COVID-19 have not received the results.

Many other incoming travelers were reportedly not getting the results until two days after they were tested.

The network noted that the delays came several weeks after a new company took over the testing apparatus at the airport. Unlike Check2Fly, the previous firm that managed the tests, the new company — Femi Premium — does not process the swab samples at the airport itself, but sends them to laboratories it does not operate itself.

Additionally, these labs do not update arriving travelers about the results, but tell the Health Ministry. The ministry then informs health maintenance organizations, which update those insured by them. Check2Fly informed travelers directly.

“There is no person whose test was positive and did not receive a response within 48 hours,” the Health Ministry said.

The report came amid concerns over the entry of the more contagious Delta [Indian] variant into the country and that infected travelers from overseas were helping fuel a renewed rise in coronavirus cases.

Israelis who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from quarantine upon returning to the country, unless returning from COVID-19 hotspots to which travel is barred.

The countries that Israelis are currently banned from visiting are Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, and Russia.

But according to Channel 12 news, travelers coming from those countries are arriving in Israel on private planes and entering without inspection. The report said that others coming from those countries on commercial flights are returning home from the airport using public transportation, posing a potential risk to those around them.

Outgoing Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy told the network that the situation at the airport “seems absurd,” admitting that results should ideally be given within 24 hours.

The government on Sunday approved the issuing of a tender to set up a new coronavirus testing facility at Ben Gurion Airport, as part of efforts to increase testing capacity there.

The network also aired a recording of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett imploring municipal leaders to encourage vaccination before some doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots that Israel acquired expire at the end of July. Bennett earlier Monday appealed to teenagers to get vaccinated by July 9.

“To do the second shot by July 30, you need the first shot to be by July 9,” Bennett can be heard saying, referring to the 21-day period between doses.

“It’s possible to also continue vaccinating after July 9, but then we’ll only get one shot, which is far less effective concerning the Delta variant.”

He added: “It’s simply a crime not to get vaccinated in this window.”

Levy said Israel is looking to swap the doses set to expire next month for shots from other countries that have later expiration dates. He did not specify which countries.

A separate report from the Kan public broadcaster said the ministry will destroy 800,000 vaccines worth hundreds of millions of dollars if no country agrees to purchase them in the next two weeks.

Earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority agreed to, and then rejected, a deal for Israel to hand over the soon-to-expire vaccines in exchange for the PA’s shipment of fresh Pfizer shots, which are scheduled to arrive later in 2021.

Health Ministry figures showed daily cases further rising, with 213 infections confirmed on Monday since midnight, up from the 145 recorded throughout the previous day.

The number of active infection climbed to 1,425, though serious “cases” have continued to drop and were down to just 21.

Another fatality — the second in two weeks — took the death toll to 6,430. There have been 841,184 infections since the pandemic began.

Of the over 40,000 tests so far performed on Monday, 0.5% come back positive, up slightly from the 0.4% rate recorded over the past several days.

To combat the rising infections, the Health Ministry reimposed the indoor mask mandate on Friday and the government has moved to tighten rules on travel, given concerns that the Delta variant was contributing to the recent surge.

Meeting Sunday evening for the first time since the new government was sworn in, the coronavirus cabinet discussed increased testing and enforcement on Israel’s borders and a boosted effort to vaccinate teens — but did not add any major new restrictions.

Source: TOI