Random Covid-19 tests to begin at Israeli supermarkets

Israel supermarket  / Photo:  Cadya Levy, Globes
Israel supermarket / Photo: Cadya Levy, Globes

Samples from shoppers and cashiers taken by the Health Ministry will see how widespread the virus has become in the population.

The plan to conduct COVID-19 random sample tests in supermarkets in Israel by the Ministry of Health and Weizmann Institute of Science has been delayed, but not canceled. Sources inform "Globes" that it will begin in the coming days. The sources added that the random samples would be taken from cashiers and shoppers by representatives of the IDF Home Front Command, with the tests being sent to laboratories of the Weizmann Institute.

The Weizmann Institute is operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Health in order to reach places where people are allowed to assemble and conduct tests there. The large retail food chains have been selected for this purpose. The goal of this joint initiative is to map Israel's population in order to find out where the coronavirus is located in Israel.

As reported by "Globes," Prof. Gabi Barabash, a former Ministry of Health director general and former director general of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital), is in charge of the process on behalf of the Weizmann Institute. Weizmann Institute scientists are leading the process at the Ministry of Health's request, and according to sources involved in the measure, senior Ministry of Health staff are included.

The reason for the delay of the tests, which were scheduled to begin on Monday in branches of supermarket chains Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing, Victory Supermarket, and Shufersal, was the leaking of the information about the location of the branches. According to information received by the chains, the experimental plan was to have begun at a Victory outlet in Beersheva, at Rami Levy branches in Jerusalem's Talpiot and Bat Yam, Shufersal Deal branches in Tira and Rahat, and a Bnei Brak branch of Yesh Chesed, Shufersal's haredi (Jewish ultra-Orthodox) unit.

Reports of this in the media caused concern that people with symptoms would go to the supermarkets to be tested, and increase the possibility of infection and deter consumers coming to the store. This time, the Ministry of Health and Weizmann Institute are planning to "surprise" the public by not disclosing the location of the stores in which sample tests will be conducted.

"We will take half of the sample from cashiers and half from ordinary shoppers," Barabash told "Globes." "The cashiers will be the canaries in the mine. By definition, supermarket cashiers meet more people, and their risk is therefore greater. The chance of finding something among them is greater, and better represents the area in which they are located." The tests at the branches will take place in a private room.

Barabash says that the reason for the postponement is that "We coordinated our visits with the management of the branches. Some of the branches gave the media the names of the stores where the tests would take place, and we were worried about patients crowding into these store. This would have distorted the target population of the study, and in particular, would have jeopardized other shoppers."

The choice of the large retail food chains was not an accident. These chains have been classified as essential, and are continuing to supply food and other products to the general public, despite the orders closing many businesses in Israel. Government sources have made it clear more than once that the supermarkets would remain open in order to prevent any concern about a shortage.

The supermarkets are among the few sectors in the economy benefiting from the coronavirus crisis, with increased demand from normal times. Very high sales are being reported. At the same time, demand is always high at this time of year, before the Passover holiday and Seder night. The food chains are benefiting from both large numbers of shoppers because of the crisis and demand for their delivery services several times higher than at ordinary times. Nevertheless, due to the waiting times for deliveries, many customers have resumed shopping at physical supermarkets in order to stock up for a complete lockdown, when food cannot be obtained outside the home.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 30, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Israel supermarket  / Photo:  Cadya Levy, Globes
Israel supermarket / Photo: Cadya Levy, Globes
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