‘Gov’t failing to stop second wave of coronavirus’

Coronavirus cabinet to meet Wednesday as cases surge

A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is treated an the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). May 6, 2020 (photo credit: STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS)
A patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is treated an the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). May 6, 2020
(photo credit: STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS)
Israel does not have the capabilities required to stop the spike in coronavirus cases and could be forced back into lockdown, according to Weizmann Institute of Science Prof. Eli Waxman. He headed the panel of experts advising the National Security Council during the first wave of COVID-19.
“There are no miracles here,” Waxman said Tuesday. “There is a reasonable chance we’ll have to reinstate the closures because the Health Ministry is not doing what it needs to do.”
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on a day that 258 more people were infected with the novel coronavirus and the number of serious patients increased by four, including four more who are intubated, he said the public should take note that while the number of serious people in intensive-care units is low, “it is the fraction we would expect. For every 400 new people, we expect two or three new ICU patients with a delay of about a week, and this is what we see. The numbers are not surprising.”
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported that 14,371 people were screened for coronavirus, making the country’s infection rate for the day around 1.8%. The rate on Monday was close to 2%. Health experts believe that if the infection rate surpasses 1% for too long, there is a likelihood that the health system could be overwhelmed.
“We see a direct correlation between the opening of the economy and the rise in morbidity,” Prof. Sigal Sadetsky said Tuesday at the Knesset. “There are significant increases in the number of cases found throughout the country, with an emphasis on children.
“There is an increase in morbidity in 57 localities, and this is not a given that can be ignored. An increase in asymptomatic tests does not account for the increase, because the percentage of people who tested positive is on the rise, while the increase in tests should have lowered it. “
The geographic spread of the virus in Israel could be called a “second wave,” she said.
Eleven employees at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv reportedly were diagnosed with the virus on Monday. At least five residents and staff members at a senior living facility for Holocaust survivors in Pardesiya tested positive.
Meuhedet Health Maintenance Organization’s director-general entered quarantine after it was discovered that she had been in contact with a coronavirus patient a few days ago.
According to the Health Ministry, 690 medical staff throughout Israel are in quarantine. Also, some 627 students and faculty are infected, the Education Ministry said. Some 168 schools are closed, and there are 21,807 students and staff in isolation.
Moreover, a report by the Health Ministry shows that the virus is spreading throughout the country, including in Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities, which had among the highest per capita rates of infection during the first coronavirus peak.
The Health Ministry recommended that the number of coronavirus tests in Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot be increased because the three neighboring cities have experienced a spike in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.
“Bnei Brak is back on the map, there is mass infection [among] foreign immigrants [in southern Tel Aviv], the virus is all over Israel; I am not sure what is scarier,” Prof. Gabi Barbash, a former director-general of the Health Ministry, told the Post.
Waxman said the only way to stop the spread now is to implement fast contact tracing to enable the Health Ministry to cut off the infection chain, “but that is not operative.”
Israel needs a real-time database to provide intelligence and data so the experts can make educated decisions about what is going on with the virus, he said. In addition, a manager is essential for overseeing all aspects of the battle from logistics to communication with the police, IDF and the public, he added.
“The Health Ministry resists any of these changes, so what we are left with is what we had in March,” Waxman said.
Cyrille Cohen, the head of Bar-Ilan University’s immunotherapy lab, expressed similar sentiments.
“People don’t fear it is going to happen to them,” he said.
Cohen called on the government to do a better job of enforcing the Health Ministry’s three principle regulations: wearing a protective mask, social distancing and personal hygiene.
“People are not aware of the danger, or maybe they are fed up with all these rules and the fact that we were isolated and could not celebrate Passover or Independence Day,” he told the Post. But studies show that wearing masks can reduce the rate of infection by as much as 85%, so the government should make people do it, he said.
Sourasky Medical Center staff members have broken social-distancing rules more than once, including a few days ago when more than 20 people were present in the same room for a goodbye party and were not wearing masks for a noticeable period of time, according to sources at the hospital, Ynet reported.
Shortly after the goodbye party, one of the doctors who was present was informed that his wife and daughter had been infected with coronavirus; he was later found to also have the virus. Those present at the party entered quarantine.
While one cannot predict the future, Cohen said, logically, if only around 2% of the population was thus far exposed to the virus – as preliminary antibody testing results have shown – and if the hot weather has little impact on transmission, there is little reason to believe that anything has changed.
“I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but we already see a rise in critical patients,” he said.
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet Wednesday evening to discuss the situation. Health Ministry officials are reportedly planning to ask to put a halt to opening up any more of the country, while politicians are likely going to push to allow cultural events and institutions to resume operation.
Cabinet members have committed not to go backward and to continue with the country’s policy of designating red zones. Currently there are four: southern Tel Aviv, Rahat, Hura and Arara. At the meeting, the cabinet is expected to decide on Ashdod, Baka al-Gharbiya, Bnei Brak, Elad and Netivot.
Hospital administrators have said the government needs to better prepare for the winter, when at least 2,000 people are expected to be ventilated due to seasonal flu.
“The public must be vaccinated against influenza,” Likud MK Haim Katz said Tuesday at the Knesset. “Mixing influenza and coronavirus could create economic chaos across the country.”
Hospital health professionals have said they could handle about another 1,000 intubated coronavirus patients. After that, the hospitals would need more ventilators, more doctors, more nurses and an increased budget.
Barbash said he believes one of the reasons the infection rate has moved slightly slower than in the initial phase of the coronavirus is because some of the public still is behaving carefully, some stores are enforcing the rules, and some workplaces are taking precautions. Many of the current patients are younger right now and are less likely to develop serious symptoms, he said.
Waxman agreed that the spike is slightly slower this time around, so we might have a little more time. Still, he stressed, “We have to take some action and reverse this trend.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.