Israeli team arrives for trials of four rapid COVID-19 tests, brings high-tech equipment

Israeli team arrives for trials of four rapid COVID-19 tests, brings high-tech equipment

Could be game changer for the world if even one proves effective: Envoy.

An Israeli team, led by a “high ranking” research and development (R&D) defence official, arrived in Delhi on Monday with a multi-pronged mission, codenamed “Operation Breathing Space” to work with Indian authorities on the coronavirus (COVID-19) response, said a statement issued by the Israeli Embassy in Delhi.

Amongst the plans for the team, which will be coordinated by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Ministry of Health, are four different kinds of rapid tests, which will be jointly developed after trials on Indian COVID-19 patients, as well as high-tech equipment to minimise exposure of medical staff to the virus, advanced respirators and special sanitisers developed in Israel.

“If even one of the tests proves to be effective in testing for coronavirus in 30-40 seconds, this could be a game changer for the whole world and how we behave, at least until we have a vaccine,” Israeli Ambassador Ron Malka, who also flew to Delhi by the special flight from Tel Aviv with the team and medical equipment aid, told The Hindu on Monday. “Imagine how much easier it will be to operate flights, schedule conferences and meetings, if we can test so easily and quickly,” he explained.

The tests that the Israeli teams will be conducting trials for include an audio test, a breath test, thermal testing, and a polyamino test which seeks to isolate proteins related to COVID-19, said officials.

In the audio test, a patient’s voice would be recorded and evaluated through artificial intelligence and machine learning, while the breath test would involve making the patient blow into a tube, which would be analysed through specialised “high-frequency” methodology. The simple tests have been tried on a small sample of Israeli patients, and now would be tried in the next stage on a larger sample of Indian patients, after which they would be recalibrated depending on results, using “big data” analysis.

“These are not experiments on patients. We are just testing using samples from patients. They are completely safe and are not invasive, and will follow international standards and practices,” Mr. Malka said, adding that the trials in Israel thus far had yielded positive results.

The cooperation between Indian and Israeli scientists will also include sharing the most effective treatment protocols for COVID-19 patients.

The team, which will work initially at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), has also brought robotic equipment, and wrist monitors that will help doctors and nurses monitor a patient without increasing risks of infection to themselves.

In addition, the team has brought 83 “advanced respirators” to help patients with severe symptoms. These have been banned for export in Israel, but have been allowed for Indian use by a special waiver, said the Ambassador.

The decision to cooperate on COVID-19 research and development, and to allow the Israeli team to conduct trials for their rapid testing in India was decided between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who have spoken three times since the pandemic broke out. On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi called External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to brief him on details of the team’s plans in India over the next few weeks.

“The India-Israel partnership is currently focused on combating the COVID-19 challenge. Even as it does, the larger agenda of cooperation continues to move forward,” Mr. Jaishankar said in a tweet after the conversation.

While Israel appeared to have successfully brought down coronavirus cases in the initial weeks after the pandemic broke out worldwide, the number of cases has sharply spiked in the past month, and the government has re-imposed restrictions in view of the “second wave” of cases. Mr. Malka said the scientists would also discuss some of the “mistakes” made along with sharing best practices and “cutting edge technology” between the Indian and Israeli teams.

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