An Israeli medical worker holds a COVID-19 test sample at a medical clinic in central Israeli city of Ramla on June 18, 2020.
An Israeli medical worker holds a COVID-19 test sample at a medical clinic in central Israeli city of Ramla on June 18, 2020.
(Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen)

JERUSALEM, June 21 (Xinhua) -- With the ongoing probably once-in-a-century COVID-19 pandemic, the Israeli laboratories have been almost stretched to the limit under the mounting pressure of testing for the deadly virus in addition to tens of thousands of daily routine tests, exposing the weak points in the country's public health system.

Back in 2016, the Israeli state comptroller issued an extensive report on the state of the laboratories in the country, warning that they were severely understaffed and underfunded and unable to be adequately prepared for the times of emergency.

An Israeli medical worker takes a COVID-19 test sample at a medical clinic in central Israeli city of Ramla on June 18, 2020.
An Israeli medical worker takes a COVID-19 test sample at a medical clinic in central Israeli city of Ramla on June 18, 2020.
(Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen)

Now among the hundreds of labs scattered around Israel, only 40 are capable of conducting tests for the novel coronavirus.

In addition, the overwhelming majority of the 3,500 active workers in the country's laboratories near the retirement age, as the relatively low salary makes it difficult to attract the younger generation as lab technicians.

"Everyone knows this crisis was coming. We spoke about it constantly," said Esther Admon, head of the Israel Association of Biochemists, Microbiologists and Laboratory Workers.

So far, 305 Israelis have died of the COVID-19 while the number of the cases have topped 20,000. However, as the government has eased anti-virus restrictions in recent weeks, the country has seen a disconcerting relapse.

However, a marked increase in the number of tests does not go with more workers, not to mention that anyone testing positive for COVID-19 will take a weekly series of additional tests to monitor their overall health.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the government foresaw the shortage of staff and turned to additional bodies to conduct the testing. But with the increased ability to test the population, criticisms also arise about lost or mistaken tests, and the labs not up to par with international standards.

A medical worker works at the department of the coronavirus of the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in the central Israeli city of Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020.
A medical worker works at the department of the coronavirus of the Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in the central Israeli city of Tel Aviv on June 18, 2020.
(Xinhua/Gil Cohen Magen)

Last week, the association headed by Admon announced a labor dispute with the government over a plan to bring technicians working in regular labs to the COVID-19 labs once they are done with their regular shifts.

"I already have at least two labs that are about to collapse," said Admon, also laboratory manager at Soroka Hospital.

"The virus is here to stay. Why are we waiting for more labs to collapse? It is just around the corner. And what will we do if a second wave strikes?" he added.

Yuval Gefen, head of the Microbiology Laboratory at the Rambam Health Care Campus in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, agreed that the ability to respond depends on quick and reliable lab results.

"The whole system needs to be strengthened," Gefen told Xinhua. "We need investment and long-term thinking. There is no magic trick that will fix this."

Israel's top health care providers have warned that the coming winter will be a major breaking point for the labs that will also have to deal with the annual flu outbreak.

"Viruses will always be here. We will finish with the coronavirus and something else will come along," said Gefen, underlining the importance of solving the problem from its roots without quick fixes.

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