Israel Has Lost Control of Coronavirus Outbreak, Experts Warn Netanyahu

In irregular move, team advising National Security Council pens letter to PM blaming public health services for mounting difficulties on formation of mechanism to track chains of infection

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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People wear masks at Tel Aviv's Haganah rail station, June 22, 2020.
People wear masks at Tel Aviv's Haganah rail station, June 22, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The panel advising the National Security Council on the coronavirus outbreak sent a letter to the prime minister and health minister on Saturday night warning that the country "has lost control of the pandemic" and should take immediate steps to blunt the virus' spread – or else face another lockdown within weeks.

The letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein also urged them to take away the responsibility for creating a system for breaking the chains of infection from Siegal Sadetzki, the Health Ministry's director of public health.  

The letter was sent amid a steady rise in cases, about a month after the outbreak was considered sufficiently contained for the government to decide to reopen restaurants and bars and a week after rail operations resumed.

The panel, headed by Professor Avi Waxman of the Weizmann Institute, wrote that in recent weeks "the daily number of new cases is high and steadily growing, the cases are scattered throughout the country, and we do not have an effective capability to break the chains of infections." Over the past month, the number of cases has doubled every 12 days, the letter said. This is lower than in March, when cases doubled every three days, the panel wrote, and the percentage of patients in serious condition is also lower – 2% of cases rather than 3%.

"These figures give a window of opportunity for action, which has the potential to change the trend," the panel wrote. "But in the absence of action" to change the increase in infections to a decrease, it said, "the continuation of the current direction will require another lockdown within a few weeks. Its results will be devastating for the economy and society."

The document's authors recommended immediate steps to mitigate the infection rate. According to the letter, Israel must first limit social and leisure activities while preserving market activity: "Gatherings of many dozens should be restricted, as they are of low market value and high risk." In addition, they repeated their suggestion to Netanyahu from last month to effectively operate a mechanism to investigate and cut the chain of infection, as well as form an emergency unit within the Health Ministry managed by the deputy director-general.

The team members directly accused the public health service in the ministry, headed by Sadetzki, of giving restrictive instructions that made it hard to form a mechanism to track and stop infections. According to them, this is "the main reason for the loss of control over the pandemic." They call to immediately transfer the mechanism from under her purview.

"The management of the fight in effect stayed with the public health services without change since March, without professional and thorough administrative work, without goals and quantitative indexes and without operating and effective functioning of various factors," read the letter.

The letter ended by calling on Netanyahu and Edelstein "to intervene in the situation already today and prevent a lapse which would lead to another devastating blow to the Israeli economy."

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