Worst of coronavirus 'still ahead of us' warn Bennett, Kochavi

Kochavi warns virus to continue for months and could see a military operation during the crisis; Bennett warns Israel has half the amount of respirators needed

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (Right) and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (Left) (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (Right) and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi (Left)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned in a letter to commanders that the worst stage of the coronavirus is “still ahead of us” and that a widespread military operation may also occur as the virus continues to spread.
“There is a serious phase still ahead of us. There will be a deterioration in the scope of the health of patients, the economy and society,” he said in a letter *quoted by Walla!News* and viewed by The Jerusalem Post.
He warned that according to the military’s working assumptions, the corona crisis “will last many months” and that the IDF will have no choice but to increase the scope of assistance it is already providing to the state.
“As time goes on, and as the economic, medical and mental state of the country will grow more difficult, so will the impact on the soldiers, career officers and commanders,” he said.
Nevertheless, the IDF will continue to train and maintain operational readiness, as “an attack, another round of violent confrontation and even a widespread operation can also occur during this period,” Kochavi warned.
The military has said that despite the coronavirus, it is continuing with its normal operational capabilities, with several changes made in order to prevent the spread of the disease, such as keeping troops on base for a month to limit contact with potential carriers.
The IDF also said that it’s delaying a joint air exercise with the US that was supposed to begin on Tuesday. The aerial exercise, in which F-35 stealth fighter jets were set to take part, had received special permission to be held despite a ban on joint international military drills, as it was due to take part in the air with no person-to-person contact.
But on Wednesday the IDF said that the US requested the postponement of several days to “sort out coordination issues.” The IDF didn’t elaborate on the nature of these issues.
Also on Wednesday Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel will soon see an exponential growth in the number of seriously ill coronavirus patients needing respirators.
“We’re nearing the exponential phase of the epidemic. We’re seeing accelerated growth in the number of serious corona-positive folks who need respiratory support. This is worrying,” he said in a press conference. “The Israeli public has been remarkable in understanding the vital need to isolate, which is why I have a certain degree of optimism. But the next few days, we’re going to hunker down.”
According to Bennett, there are about 3,000 respirators in Israel, with half already occupied by patients.
“We have 1,500. We need a lot more. There will be no respirators available when our grandparents are dying,” he said, adding that he would like to reach ten thousand respirators for patients in need.
Bennett, who said that he was against a full nationwide lockdown, said that while such a move is effective, “it’s not a magical cure.”
“I will fight and will not give up until we convince everyone to do a 180 and change the policy to do mass testing,” Bennett said. “If the State of Israel wants to get back to normal, we should be carrying out 30,000 tests a day. If we could carry out the operation at Entebbe, we can do this, too. It’s not far-fetched.”
The number of individuals diagnosed with the virus climbed to over 2,170 cases by Wednesday evening. According to the Health Ministry, while the large majority of cases (1,876) are mild, 37 people are in serious condition, and five people have died. There are 28 IDF soldiers diagnosed with the virus.
While new emergency regulations – including prohibiting people from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes – came into effect at 5 p.m. for a seven-day period, the government has yet to declare a state of emergency.
“No one has any doubt that we are in an emergency,” Bennett said, adding nonetheless that “this discussion is behind us; it has been decided that the Health Ministry will take the lead.”
Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Israel last month, some 135,549 Israelis have self-isolated at home for a period of 14 days, after returning from overseas or being exposed to the virus. There are currently 71,029 citizens in isolation at the moment.
According to Bennett, “It’s wrong to have sick individuals remain at home and not in [quarantine] hotels” set up by the government in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Starting from Saturday, anyone returning to Israel from abroad will be checked immediately for the virus and then be required to self-isolate for 14-days. Those returning from the United States, Italy, France and Spain, which have been designated as high risk countries for the disease will be checked upon landing and then transferred to quarantine hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Tiberias. 
Also on Wednesday, Israel’s National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) and its American Counterpart, FEMA, established a cooperation mechanism to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a statement released by the Defense Ministry, the two agencies held their first joint discussion on Tuesday night with representatives of the health ministries of both countries, the National Security Council, US Department of Homeland Security and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The discussion, which was part of the international cooperation initiative led by NEMA, was led by the head of the Cooperation and Assistance Unit in NEMA, Kobi Wimisberg, director of the International Department of the Health Ministry, Dr. Ashi Shalmon, and the head of the Foreign Policy Department in the NSC, Dr. Avner Golov.
Some of the topics that were discussed included curbing the spread of the virus, vaccination, issues related to quarantine, assisting the elderly population, emotional support, returning to routine activity, and economic rehabilitation. The two sides also discussed potential areas of cooperation between the two countries as well as establishing a mechanism of ongoing exchange and discourse.
“The conference call resulted in the decision to establish a joint working group and knowledge-exchange mechanism in light of the fight against the COVID-19 virus pandemic,” the statement read, adding that “in addition, representatives from both countries exchanged information about the challenges they face.”