IDF's top doctor: Number of soldiers with coronavirus per day tripled

Brig.-Gen. Tarif Bader says most quarantined troops continue to carry out operational duty, albeit removed from healthy troops

IDF's chief medical officer Brig.-Gen. Tarif Bader. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF's chief medical officer Brig.-Gen. Tarif Bader.
There are more than double the amount of IDF soldiers currently sick with the novel coronavirus as compared to the number of sick during the peak of the virus during the first wave, the head of the IDF Medical Corps told The Jerusalem Post.
Out of a total of 639 cases within the military since the beginning of the pandemic, there are currently 384 IDF service members sick with the virus and 255 have either recovered or been discharged. All are in light condition and in coronavirus hotels along with sick civilians.
According to Brig.-Gen. Tarif Bader, at the peak of the first wave at the end of March, between 60-65 soldiers tested positive for the virus. But now, there are three times that number.
In addition, there are close to 10,000 service members in quarantine, including IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
Kochavi entered quarantine for the second time on Thursday after coming into contact with a serviceman who was later confirmed to have the novel coronavirus.
“The chief of staff will be in quarantine and stick to his daily routine, as much as possible,” read a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. “He feels well, is not displaying symptoms and will be tested shortly.”
According to the statement, a number of other officers will also enter a two-week quarantine period. All will continue working, including Kochavi, the military said.
In April, following a similar incident, Kochavi entered quarantine and later tested negative for the virus.
His quarantine period comes a day after Defense Minister Benny Gantz also entered a two-week quarantine after coming in contact with a family member who was later diagnosed with the virus.
But according to Bader, despite the high number of soldiers in quarantine, the army’s operational capabilities have not been affected because those quarantined continue to carry out their duties secluded from others in their own capsules.
“A soldier who is in quarantine who is still healthy can still function,” he said, adding that confirmed carriers who are sick are removed from the capsule and placed in coronavirus facilities along with civilians who are sick.
Bader explained that the capsule system, which can be anywhere from between 10-50 soldiers, keeps the balance necessary between “minimizing interaction while still allowing the military to function as needed.”
According to Bader, who expected a second wave months ago, Israel is seeing a higher number of incidents, which is why it is even more important to listen to regulations set by the military or government.
“In this second wave, since we are seeing a higher number of incidents, it makes it even more necessary to listen to the regulations,” he told the Post. “We were prepared, but we know that we can do better. I describe it as ‘mistake and punishment.’ If we act well, we will have better results, but if we don’t listen to the regulations, these are the results.”
According to the IDF’s top medical officer, with a higher number of cases across the country – there were 1,231 new infections reported by the Health Ministry on Thursday morning alone – “there is a higher chance that someone will meet someone carrying the virus.”
He explained that the IDF’s Medical Corps is working hand-in-hand with the Health Ministry and Home Front Command, as well as Magen David Adom rescue services during the epidemic.
“We are doing as much as we can, for us and for the civilians, because at the end of the day, it is a war we are all fighting and we need to fight together to win,” he said, explaining that as long there is no vaccine, the world will have to continue to fight against the deadly virus.
Bader said that despite the close spaces in the military, most of the infections in the army don’t necessarily come from within the army, “but of course, if there is one sick soldier, there is a higher chance that he will infect others and that’s why we work in capsules, which will minimize interactions.”
Despite the increase in cases, the IDF has not kept soldiers on bases like it did during the first wave. Instead, it has limited furloughs for combat soldiers to once every 21 days and placed restrictions on troops who are allowed home.
While there are cases where service members can’t prevent coming into contact with an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier, there are others where troops can take the proper precautions, such as keeping distance and wearing a mask, to decrease the chance of catching the virus.
“If a soldier goes to a party or rides on a bus where there could be an infected individual, he is a risk,” Bader said, adding that it is important to explain to soldiers how essential it is to listen to the regulations.
“At the end of the day, these are the soldiers and officers who are guarding our borders,” he said. “Officers need to understand that they have to set a personal example and troops need to understand that they can’t risk their friends by going to the beach or to parties. Everyone wants to do that, but right now, we need to have minimum interaction in order to keep the population and country safe.”