With new regulations restricting Israelis to stay within 100 meters of their home, there is growing concern that not everyone in the at-risk population and who is in need of assistance will be reached.
The IDF’s National Assistance Center was established last week following instructions from Defense Minister Naftali Bennett to open a center dedicated to helping civilians deal with the coronavirus pandemic. It has so far helped a million Israelis across the country.
“We started this center because of the need to have one hub to give solutions to problems stemming from the coronavirus,” Lt.-Col. Amir Ben David, Operations Commander in the National Assistance Center told The Jerusalem Post during a visit on Thursday.
Set up at the Home Front Command’s base in central Israel, there are over 30 civilian organizations and charities working with the IDF, government agencies and regional authorities.
While Ben David stressed that every civilian who would need help would receive it, “the elderly are our top priority.”
“Our mission is to stop the spread of corona and if we can provide help to the elderly we will. We don’t want people to go outside and endanger themselves,” he said.
According to Ben David, the center has stepped in to care for up to the elderly, especially the 300,000 elderly Israelis who have no family or caregivers to provide them with the essentials such as food and medicine. On Thursday alone, some 70,000 food parcels were delivered to those in need.
But, “we won’t be able to reach everyone, but we are working with regional authorities and the agencies and charities to get to who we need to reach,” said Maj. Ben Sa'adi, commander of operations at the National Assistance Center.
Sa’adi explained that earlier in the day they had received a call from Eilat looking for volunteers to distribute food to at risk populations. Within moments a civilian agency had recruited 10 locals to help.
He told the Post that while troops are a central part of the center, IDF soldiers are not yet needed to deliver the food but should the need arise and the country is placed under a full nationwide lockdown, they are ready.
In addition to the military’s center, another national aid center jointly established by the United Hatzalah Rescue Services and Bank Hapoalim will be opened to assist the elderly, people with disabilities and anyone who needs help with food and medicine. The center will be working all week from 8 a.m to 10 p.m.
An additional part of the military’s role in the fight against the virus is a joint Home Front Command and Magen David Adom coronavirus specific call center. Situated next door to the national assistance center, the call center is manned 24/7.
There is an average of 80,000 calls per day to the center, with the peak being in the evening. When the Post visited the center on Thursday afternoon, operators had answered 12,130 of a total of 15,403 calls after an average waiting time of less than two minutes.
According to MDA, once the calls are answered, the requests for the test are sent to the patient’s medical provider followed by a regional doctor for a second approval. Once approved, MDA teams and IDF troops are sent to the patient’s home to carry out the test which is then sent to a laboratory. The patient is told of the result less than 48 hours after it’s taken.
While the call center, which was built in collaboration with the Health Ministry and other relevant health organizations, is meant for people in quarantine at home who develop symptoms, thousands of calls come from Israelis who clearly don’t have the virus.
“Everyone thinks that they have corona,” Lt.-Col. (res.) Hadar Eisner, Commander of The Assisting Force to the MDA call center said. “The problem is the unknown, it’s more frightening than anything else.”
Eisner added that even doctors have called into the center, unsure of what answers to give their patients.
But with the high number of calls from frustrated and scared civilians, many of those manning the phones have been on the receiving end of curses and screaming fits.
“You can’t even imagine… It’s like working for HOT TV but a problem with your TV is one thing, but when you get people who are afraid for their lives it’s something else,” Eisner said, adding that operators are therefore being provided with mental healthcare.
“It’s very easy to see when operators feel like they’ve helped someone, but even one call can take all the wind out of their system,” he added.
The number of individuals diagnosed with the virus climbed to over 2,666 cases by Thursday afternoon. According to the Health Ministry, while the vast majority of cases are mild, 39 people are in serious condition and eight people have died.
There are 36 IDF soldiers diagnosed with the virus, a spike credited to the opening of the military’s internal coronavirus laboratory which opened on Tuesday. According to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman, the laboratory has so far carried out 140 tests and plans to do 300-350 tests on Friday and over 500 tests per day by next week.
The IDF also opened its own hotline for soldiers displaying symptoms of the coronavirus – fever, cough, shortness of breath – who can call the hotline (*6900) in order to request a test of the virus. A team from the military’s Medical Corps would then visit the soldier to test them for the virus. The sample would be sent to the IDF’s corona laboratory and should the test be positive the soldier would be sent to the military’s corona treatment center in Ashkelon.
The hotline, established as part of the military’s effort to relieve pressure on the civilian healthcare system, will function 24/7 at all times of the day.
To call the center please dial 1221.