Israel could run out of rapid antigen COVID-19 tests after airline pilots refused to operate cargo-only flights from South Korea to Tel Aviv loaded with the small self-testing kits.
Rapid antigen tests are in huge demand worldwide as countries learn to live with the virus and have been crucial in getting workers out of isolation to avoid supply-chain bottlenecks.
On Wednesday, the Israeli cabinet agreed to reduce the isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 to just five days but only if they twice test negative using a rapid self-test.
The Israeli government will start supplying free home testing kits to everyone who wants them and has managed to secure a supply from a major manufacturer of the kits in South Korea. Authorities in South Korea have successfully used rapid antigen tests since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
But deliveries of the kits could be delayed after pilots for Israeli airline Arkia refused to operate the special cargo-only flights that would bring them from Seoul to Israel.
Arkia has done a deal with the Israeli government to operate six special flights packed with rapid antigen tests but the airline fears the flights will have to be cancelled unless a court issues an injunction against the pilots union.
Because Arkia doesn’t normally fly to Seoul it wants to set up a special route via Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The first flight would depart with 12 pilots and some would get off in Tashkent and others would get off in Seoul.
Arkia’s plan would allow the aircraft to keep moving without long periods on the ground so there was little delay in the test kits arriving in Israel.
But the pilots union said it was concerned that some pilots would spend nearly a week away from home as they waited out their time in Seoul. A labour agreement allows pilots to refuse to work unscheduled flights, the union told a court.
Unlike RT-PCR tests, rapid antigen tests can provide a result in as little as 15-minutes and are very good at determining whether someone is actually infectious with COVID-19.
A growing number of countries are relying on the test kits to slash the time that people spend in self-isolation but in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was forced to reduce the isolation period to just five days without any testing requirement because of a shortage of rapid testing kits.
Critics claim people who test positive for COVID-19 could unwittingly infect other people after returning to work after just five days of self-isolation.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.