'Israel Has Days to Contain Coronavirus Outbreak, or Health Services Could Collapse'

Expert panel issues stark warning, urges Israeli army to take over management of coronavirus crisis

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The coronavirus control room at Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva, April 13, 2020.
The coronavirus control room at Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva, April 13, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A panel of experts advising Israel’s National Security Council on the coronavirus pandemic recommended Saturday that Israel immediately announce a state of emergency, amid a spike in new cases.

Hospitals may collapse amid an increase in numbers of seriously ill patients and "the health system will be in danger if the outbreak is not contained in the coming week," the panel wrote. Additionally, the panel, which had issued similar warnings before, called for management of the crisis to be moved from the Health Ministry to the army.

The panel is headed by Prof. Eli Waxman, a physicist at the Weizmann Institute who addressed the recommendation to the prime minister, health and finance ministers and the head of the National Security Council. In the letter, Waxman stated: “An analysis of the data on infections indicates oncoming danger to the functioning of the health care system and economy. Even if the trend in infections is stopped, the number of seriously ill patients is expected to rise in the next month to numbers that will endanger hospitals.”

According to the panel, even four months after the pandemic, the Health Ministry still has no functioning system to manage operations, and no systems to aggregate and analyze data so it can be presented to decision makers.

The panel recommended re-establishing the so-called "National Control Center," created by the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad in March. According to the panel members, the center should be responsible for building a plan to manage the pandemic, based on daily epidemiological data and in consultation with Health Ministry officials.

The center should take over all of the ministry's responsibilities as they relate to the pandemic, including testing, epidemiological investigations, quarantine, and data collection. The center should also be responsible for purchases for the Health Ministry and for issuing directives to the HMOs, Magen David Adom emergency services, the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command and the police, the letter said.

“We specifically stress that the center should have the authority to set policy regarding testing, investigations and quarantine. This authority is essential. The policy today as set by the [Health Ministry's] public health service is a professional failure which has prevented the development of capabilities,” the document states.

Waxman and the members of the panel recommend the appointment of the chief of the IDF Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, to head the control center.

In practical terms, the recommendations would mean passing control from the Health Ministry to the security establishment. According to the panel, “Israel is facing one of the worst emergencies in its history. Refraining from taking immediate steps in the hope that the situation will improve will only make the situation worse and cause a major disaster to society and the economy.”

Prof. Waxman was invited to Sunday’s government meeting to present the panel’s position.

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