In Israel, omicron, confusion causes “real panic” for testing

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TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Aviran Yael picked up rapid antigen kits from a pharmacy in bustling central Tel Aviv, placed them in the light blue bag strapped to the back of his motorcycle, and set off to deliver them. .

With it, Yael joined a growing army of couriers carrying Wolt delivery boxes around Israel on Monday, a sight that has become ubiquitous in the three years since the Finnish company began operating here.

The payload in the blue boxes changed when the Israeli government last week allowed more home testing to ease the burden on testing centers.

Almost immediately, as the omicron coronavirus variant set infection records, rapid antigen testing became the platform’s most demanded product – even more than food, its primary delivery business, officials said. .

As Wolt opened a modern headquarters in a blue building in Tel Aviv on Monday, someone ordered an antigen test every three seconds – a reflection of widespread public anxiety and confusion over the ongoing pandemic policies. evolution of government.

“There is real panic for these tests,” Yael said.

Even in a relatively wealthy small Israel, the government and the ruled grapple with the dizzying rise of the omicron as it spreads around the world, sparking anxiety in a place already known for its tensions. Since the variant first appeared in South Africa in November, the government has closed and reopened the airport, changed testing policies, tightened and relaxed quarantine requirements, and confused people about whether and how to send their children to school.

In the face of weakening public support, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this week warned that between 2 million and 4 million among Israel’s population of 9.4 million are expected to be infected with the variant.

Israel reported 21,514 new cases on Monday, another all-time high. The number of severe cases has risen to 222, a figure that remains well below the highs recorded in previous waves of coronavirus. Bennett said preventing serious illness and hospitalizations was his main concern.

Almost two-thirds of the public are unhappy, according to a poll for Israel’s Channel 12 television channel. Sixty-three percent of Israelis said they viewed the government’s handling of the omicron crisis as bad, compared with 34 % who said they thought the crisis was well managed. That’s against 54% disapproval in August.

Cabinet members complained at Sunday’s meeting of the dissonance between tightening and loosening demands – then allowing people to crowd football stadiums for games.

“We are being asked for clarification all day,” said Economy and Industry Minister Orna Barbivai. “The feeling among the public is that the government has conceded the fight against the coronavirus. “

Perception is a challenge for the government coalition for 7 months. It is initially fragile, made up of eight parties that have little in common other than their opposition to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For his part, Bennett has said almost daily that he understands the frustration as a parent of four and someone who has recently been quarantined.

He has tried to calm people down by bragging about preparations for the current wave, offering a second round of booster shots to older Israelis, and stocking up on hard-to-find drugs to treat people with the virus.

He has also led a public campaign to increase the vaccination rate, even in areas like ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities in Israel, where people have been reluctant to roll up their sleeves.

Bennett personally escorted a 9-year-old girl to a vaccination center at a shopping mall in downtown Modiin on Monday. The event was broadcast live on Channel 12, with Bennett wearing a microphone throughout the tour.

Bennett stopped with the daughter and her mother at a candy store to buy her chocolate before the jab. By paying for the candy, he made sure the women behind the counter were vaccinated.

“We’re going to go through this together,” he told the girl as they walked into the center.

Israel’s decision to start allowing home antigen testing came in response to long lines at crowded testing centers. This, however, led to a run on test kits at drugstores, which struggled to keep their shelves fully stocked.

It also meant a spike in business for Wolt in Israel, one of two dozen countries in which the company operates, according to Lior Eshkol, managing director of Wolt in Israel.

“People want to stay home, people don’t want to risk exposure or risk exposing other people,” she said.

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