Health Ministry D-G: 'I don't think we should close down'

More than 100 new patients in last day • Netanyahu again threatens closure as cases rise

Israel's newly appointed Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy in his first address to the media on Sunday (photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Israel's newly appointed Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy in his first address to the media on Sunday
(photo credit: HEALTH MINISTRY)
Israel’s new Health Ministry director-general has told the press that he doesn’t think we should lock down.
“I do not think we need a closure,” said director-general Chezy Levy.
In contrast, for the third time in the last several days, Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting: “If the public does not stick to wearing masks and social distancing, we will be bringing back a full closure.
“I held consultations on the steep rise in morbidity,” the prime minister continued. “This morning, I asked for a meeting with the directors-general of the relevant ministries, heads of local governments, head of the National Security Council and various experts who gave their assessments. They gave me different forecasts... but these forecasts are all tough. We must flatten the curve now.”
Moreover, he said, “we are misleading the public,” at a recent coronavirus cabinet meeting, from which tapes were revealed by N12 on Sunday night. “If we allow this ‘doubling’ to occur, do the math.”
But Levy argued that despite the increase in infections, Israel has “not lost its way” in the fight against coronavirus.
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene on Monday to review its options. Under discussion is increasing fines, for example, and reducing the number of people who can work in offices in the public sector.
As the director-general spoke Sunday evening, the number of daily coronavirus patients was reported: an increase of 145 from the night before. There are currently 4,778 active cases, among them 40 in serious condition. Levy said around 2% of those who are screened for the novel virus test positive and that some 1,700 new people were infected last week.
Levy said the government will be focused on a five-point plan to help stop the increased spread of the virus: improving communication in all languages and with all sectors; promoting mask-wearing, social distancing and good hygiene; enforcing the rules through fines and other means when people break them; increasing testing; and stepping up the country’s contact tracing abilities.
He said the government is currently testing an average of 10,000 to 15,000 people per day for the virus and that Israel has also launched its planned serological testing survey.
He said it takes around three and a half days from the time people receive a referral to be tested until they receive their results.
“This is good, but we are trying to shorten it even more,” he said, adding that “the verified patients are scattered throughout more than 50 localities... This is a major challenge for cutting the infection chain.”
Levy said that while there are calls to resume Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance tracking, he believes that epidemiological investigations can be completed through other means without harming the public’s privacy.
On Friday, Edelstein announced that he had secured funds from the Finance Ministry to hire 300 contract tracers, whom Levy said should be hired and trained within the next three days.
Earlier in the day, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday called on the government to immediately reinstate the Shin Bet’s surveillance to help find people who have come in contact with coronavirus patients.
Steinitz, speaking at the cabinet meeting, said given the sharp rise in coronavirus patients in recent weeks, the Shin Bet is needed to assist with contact tracing because it can “break infection chains within a few hours and not a few days.”
He emphasized that as long as there is no suitable alternative in the Health Ministry, “the tool that has proved to be the most effective in cutting the infection chains must not be waived.”
Over the weekend, rumors circulated that Netanyahu would demand the return of digital surveillance by the Shin Bet if the infection rate continues to rise.
In a series of recordings from earlier coronavirus cabinet meetings that were released Sunday night by N12, Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman argues against the use of the technology unless the country is in a situation where “there is large-scale infection and there is no alternative solution,” in which case it would it be correct to allow Shin Bet surveillance to resume, adding that, “I really, really, really request” that the country does not legislate the Shin Bet’s involvement in the fight against coronavirus at this stage.
The Health Ministry told hospitals on Sunday morning to prepare for an immediate reopening of their coronavirus wings.
The Health Ministry “is expecting an alarming and continuous rise in coronavirus incidence, so we are again warning,” said head of hPublic health Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, in an interview with Army Radio. “We are not trying to stress the public, but rather to tell it the truth. There is a limit to the capability of the health system.”
The letter disseminated to hospitals reflected on the need to open the units in light of the increase in cases and the number of healthcare workers who have been forced into isolation as a result. The guidelines included a recommendation that hospital administrators provide staff with a refresher as to how best to protect themselves from contracting coronavirus at work.
On Sunday, N12 reported that additional staff members at Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center were infected with the virus, sending hospital workers into isolation. “There is an explosion,” a source told the media site. “They are trying to cover it up.”
“Our coronavirus wing treated approximately 80 people, some of whom were seriously ill and intubated,” said CEO of Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital Dr. Erez Barenboim in response to the Health Ministry’s message. “To my delight, the department has been closed for close to two months.
“At the same time, we are prepared and ready for any scenario with the most experienced doctors and the most advanced equipment,” he continued. “The Health Ministry does not refer coronavirus patients to us, but if needed, we will be happy to assist with our experience and capabilities as needed.”