On Saturday, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the former coronavirus czar in Israel, called for putting an end to COVID-19 tests that are required of people entering the country. The same day saw Israel finally put an end to its indoor mask mandate after two years. Currently, those who land in Israel have to isolate until they are able to obtain a negative test result, which is conducted upon their arrival, or for 24 hours after arrival, whichever is first. A regular PCR test costs around NIS 80 ($25) and the price is double for that of a rapid test.
The former COVID czar spoke as media reports showed that the Health Ministry was already contemplating putting an end to the test requirement for travelers. Gamzu was asked in an interview if maintaining the tests as necessary. These tests help identify almost 400 new cases every day and also come in handy when identifying any new variants of the virus. However, Gamzu said that these numbers were just a ‘small percentage of the total number of confirmed infections, as there are still a couple of thousand cases identified daily and that the pandemic is mostly under control in the country. The director of the Ichilov Medical Center said that the country had a lot more cases, so why shouldn’t they test everyone?
He added that they were conducting these tests on healthy people and making them pay for it from their own pockets, which is quite unreasonable. He added that the tests were not a magic tool that could be used for solving problems. He said that this measure was rather pointless and its total effect remained marginal. The interview with Gamzu came after Israel lifted the indoor mask mandate at 8 p.m. on Saturday. This decision was made in agreement by Naftali Bennett, the Prime Minister, and Nitzan Horowitz, the Health Minister.
It was made in light of the declining morbidity that has been seen in Israel in the last few weeks. While people will not be required to wear masks in most indoor places, they would still have to be worn during travel, when visiting hospitals, or when going to senior care facilities. These are places considered to have high potential for contagion, so masks are still needed. Israel had lifted the mask requirement once before in June last year, but that had only been for 10 days. The rising number of cases had forced the government to impose the requirement once more.
According to Gamzu, the country needs to move forward with ending other restrictions as well. He said that the health system and administration of Israel can be trusted to operate efficiently. He went on to say that providing people with a sense of security was the most important thing. He said that Israel can do so while moving forward, especially considering the capabilities they already have. It remains to be seen whether the Israeli government will decide to lift the testing requirements for air travelers or not.