Israel Scrambling for Protective Gear, Emergency Stockpiles, Official Papers Show

‘There is a "race" for supplies among all the emergency agencies in the country, and suppliers inventory is changing on an hourly basis,’ one request for funding notes

Uri Blau
Uri Blau
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The coronavirus unit at the Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, March 20, 2020.
The coronavirus unit at the Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv, March 20, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Uri Blau
Uri Blau

Israel has lacked sufficient stockpiles of protective gear and disinfectants to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, documents submitted by government ministries and other agencies over the past several days show.

The documents show disparities in the level of preparedness for the crisis among government entities and that some of them – including the police and hospitals – are in a race to address the shortages and are competing with one another for the limited supplies.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70

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Data included in funding requests from the police and Border Police cite a need for 150,000 sets of protective equipment per month. Until about 10 days ago, the police had only been able to purchase about 20,000 sets, which include face masks, overalls, gloves, protective goggles and special bags. They had also separately purchased about 10,000 face masks. Since then, however, about 70,000 more face masks and 70,000 additional sets of overalls have been obtained.

The Health Ministry also lacked storage space for medical equipment and medicine to treat corona patients and had to lease a warehouse in Tel Aviv.

This is all reflected in documents submitted by government agencies requesting exemptions from the requirement that they conduct a public bidding process for the supplies. The requests were approved on an expedited basis due to what was described as their being “urgent to prevent actual harm.”

The Health Ministry request for permission to lease storage space was described as “urgent” to hold “essential medical equipment and medications,” that would arrive in Israel within days. According to ministry representatives, the medications “were purchased at very high cost” due to major shortages of them.

Last Sunday, the Health Ministry came to agreement with non-government hospitals on a 310 million shekel ($86 million) plan that will have the hospitals prepare departments to receive coronavirus patients. The contract runs through the end of this year or until it is no longer necessary. About a tenth of 310 million shekels can be applied for future use.

The ministry also has agreements to establish coronavirus wards in additional hospitals, an agreement with the Bezeq telecommunications for a telephone hotline, arrangements for the shipment of corona testing materials, a contract for filtration and purification equipment and an agreement with the firm GlobeKeeper for distance monitoring of patients.

A man wears a face mask as he walks in the main market in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

150,000 sets of protective gear

The Public Security Ministry has asked for an additional 4 million shekels for masks for police and Border Police officers for what the request described as “contact between police forces and population infected with the virus.” The application, which was filed about 10 days ago, stated that law enforcement forces were gearing up for what was described as a “Level 2” situation in dealing with the coronavirus, when security forces would need 90,000 protective kits per month. Several days later, the police filed a request for an additional 11.5 million shekels, saying that they would need 150,000 protective kits a month.

Last Sunday, when the second request was filed, the police only had 22,500 disposable masks, two thirds of which had already been distributed. The latest application also includes the purchase of 1.5 million shekels worth of protective gear for the Prime Minister’s Office, but the request indicates that suppliers in Israel are unable to provide the full inventory required.

A request by the police for the purchase of cleaning products and disinfectants also noted that Israeli suppliers of the products don’t have “a stockpile in Israel for immediate purchase.” And a request for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of bottles of water noted that “there is a ‘race’ for supplies among all the emergency agencies in the country, and suppliers’ inventory is changing on an hourly basis.”

Other requests include permission for the Prime Minister’s Office to contract with the Moriya cleaning service firm for the purchase of some 2,000 regular masks, 550 units of sanitizer gel and about two dozen high-quality N95 filter masks at 65 shekels each.

The Economy and Industry Ministry signed an agreement with the Sugat sugar firm for the storage of 16,000 tons of white sugar and to replenish the supply. For its part, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry signed a 8.5 million shekel contract for the supply and home delivery of food for the elderly.

Other contracts have been signed to supply transportation for essential workers, to purchase protective equipment for Tax Authority staff and for thermometers to take the temperatures of visitors to police stations.

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