Israel Braces for 4,800 Hospitalized COVID Patients, Half of Them in Serious Condition

The government is planning to add health care staff every time the number of hospitalized patients doubles, but hospital officials say it won't be enough

Michael Hauser Tov
Yaron Kelner
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A health care worker and a patient at the coronavirus ward at Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, in July.
A health care worker and a patient at the coronavirus ward at Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, in July.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Hauser Tov
Yaron Kelner

The government is forecasting that the number of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus will double every 10 days, reaching 4,800 people – half of them with serious cases – by September 10.

According to Health Ministry figures, the number of serious COVID cases rose on Wednesday to 400, the highest figure since March. About 150 of these patients are not fully vaccinated. Israel hit its highest number of serious cases in January, with 1,200 patients – about half of the number predicted for next month.

Due to this projection, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed on Tuesday to add new health care positions each time the number of hospitalized patients doubles.

According to the agreement, which will be brought to the coronavirus cabinet for approval on Wednesday, when hospitalized COVID patient figures double, 100 new positions will be added for doctors, 500 for nurses and 200 for paramedical, cleaning and administrative staff. Bennett said Wednesday that the government will immediately transfer 2.5 billion shekels (about $773 million) to the Health Ministry in order to fund the initiative.

The prime minister stressed that while the health system is battling the spread of the COVID delta variant, so is the economy, and that business owners must be protected. The government "Is leaving no stone unturned in order to defeat this wave without restrictions that will cause mass damage to the Israeli economy," he said. 

The ministerial committee is also expected to approve an expanded Green Pass scheme, opening some services and venues only for people who are either vaccinated or having recovered, as well as limiting gatherings to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, alongside introduction of more widely available rapid tests.

Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of Government Physicians Association and head of the pediatric and epilepsy unit at Sheba Medical Center, told Haaretz that adding extra personnel is necessary, but insufficient. “You can’t recruit 100 physicians in August to solve the problem,” he said. “We need intensive care specialists, and it takes years to train them.”

Feldman added, “You can’t assemble a health care system in a heartbeat during a crisis – you need to build it for the long term. That hasn’t been happening over the past few years, so we’re now forced into emergency scenarios.”

The system needs reinforcement at every level, Feldman said of the new agreement – "doctors, nursing care workers and paramedics and anyone else who can help shoulder the burden.” He added that he hopes the staffing increases would not be reversed once the crisis has passed, as the Finance Ministry recently tried to do by eliminating 600 jobs that had been created during the pandemic.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, also criticized the agreement. “We’re always trying to take preventative measures, but we're constantly responding too late. There is already crowding in hospitals and the community – not just because of the coronavirus – and that is impairing treatment. So we need [the staffing increases] now, and not under the condition of increased infection," he said.

Davidovitch added that the agreement “doesn’t mention anything about the strained public health care system, which is responsible for epidemiological investigations and persuading people to get vaccinated. It also suffers from a significant shortage of manpower."

Due to the recent uptick in cases, Bennett announced that Israel may approve expanding the "Green Pass" proof of immunity program to apply to Israelis aged three and up, as well as limiting gatherings to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors, following a meeting with health and treasury officials on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the police handed out 1,419 tickets to people throughout Israel who were not abiding by the indoor mask mandate, three times more than on the previous day, police COVID enforcement data shows.

Despite this, officers did not levy any fines for violating the Green Pass – venues that require proof of immunity allowing in unvaccinated people or those who have not recovered from the virus without a negative test result. Last week saw just three such tickets to business owners. Haaretz reported on Tuesday that police intend to step up enforcing the mask mandate, at the expense of enforcing quarantines.     

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