Israel has launched a campaign to test 100,000 people for new antibodies to the coronavirus, while the country is preparing for a possible "second wave" of cases, an official said Thursday.
The initiative is one of the largest schemes in the world and aims to test Israel's "collective immunity" against COVID-19.
"We started … it won't be long before we see some interesting trends," said Yair Schindel, a senior official on the government's task force to fight the pandemic.
The government is trying to determine how far the virus has spread and who is most at risk in the future.
In parallel with the national campaign, the authorities are also conducting separate surveys of "high-risk areas".
Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was particularly affected by the pandemic, while other focus groups include hospital staff who treat patients with coronavirus.
"We need to understand how many of them were actually exposed and created antibodies," said Schindel, co-founder of aMoon, a venture capital firm specializing in biomedical startups.
The World Health Organization, however, said last month that there is no evidence that those who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from future infections.
– Low mortality rate –
Israel has gradually relaxed its anti-coronavirus measures in recent weeks, reopening schools, beaches and restaurants.
The country recorded 281 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 16,800 cases in a population of about nine million, according to official data.
But, despite Israel doing relatively well compared to some countries, the government is already preparing for an increase in cases that may reach this winter or earlier.
The government bought about 2.5 million tests for the antibody scheme, said Schindel.
These are being distributed to the country's four health insurance companies, before samples are collected for analysis.
"I have not yet heard of another large-scale national survey," said Schindel.
Israel's blood testing scheme, which Schindel hoped would be adopted by other countries, was first revealed earlier this month by the New York Times.
About 70% of Israel's new coronavirus infections are linked to a case in the United States, according to a study by the University of Tel Aviv, while the rest can be attributed to European cases.
Israel applied strict measures at the beginning of the pandemic, closing its borders to visitors and ordering residents to stay at home.
The use of telemedicine, which allows healthcare professionals to monitor patients from a distance, has also had a positive impact, according to experts who spoke to AFP.
"Another thing that is unique … is that the Israeli population is very used to going from day to day to an emergency situation," said Schindel.
"It is usually not because of a pandemic, it is because we have missiles coming in," he added, referring to the rockets launched by Palestinian militants from Gaza.
The enclave has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade.