The Israeli Defense Forces and the defense establishment will take responsibility for the care of Israel’s elderly population during the coronavirus crisis, the Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday.
"The IDF and the Ministry of Defense are taking responsibility for protecting the elderly population of the State of Israel,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said. “The coronavirus harms the older population much more severely than the young. And so, at the heart of the national plan to protect the elderly and at-risk populations. To that end, the Home Front Command, the IDF and the defense establishment are fully committed to carrying out the mission.”
Dubbed “Guards of Gold,” the defense establishment will work with local authorities to map the elderly population and their various needs, increase public awareness, increase logistical centers and more.
According to the defense ministry statement, Bennett will formulate a national plan and will address the needs of the elderly such as food, medical needs, prolonged isolation, and more.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett held a preliminary meeting on the issue on Monday night along with Homefront Commander Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai, Deputy Chief of Staff and other senior officers.
The full plan will be presented for approval by Bennett in the coming days.
The Israeli military will also be converting a laboratory to check soldiers for the disease to relieve the pressure from the civilian sector. The laboratory will be run on the same basis as those run by the Health Ministry but will be run by the military’s Medical Corps.
The facility at the IDF’s Tzrifin base, which is meant to identify fallen soldiers by their DNA, will initially test some 300 soldiers suspected of having the virus with plans to expand to hundreds of tests done each day on all soldiers to make sure that no unit has troops carrying the virus.
According to Chief Military Rabbi Eyal Krim, the idea of converting the DNA laboratory and using it’s equipment to detect the virus was first brought up two weeks ago.
"We are proud of the strenuous work that has been done to convert the DNA lab into a laboratory capable of detecting the corona virus thanks to the strenuous work of the corps professionals,” said IDF Medical Corps Commander Brigadier General Dr. Tarif Bader, adding that the move will make for a “significant contribution” to the abilities of the medical corps to respond during times of epidemics.
The IDF is also continuing to help Magen David Adom rescue services in testing Israelis for the coronavirus, with 150 mobile crews travelling to homes of Israelis across the country who are suspected of being ill. There are also 28 different locations where IDF troops are providing child care to health care workers who are busy in hospitals taking care of patients.
According to the IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman, while thousands of reservists have been called in the fight against the virus, the military is not calling up doctors because they don't want to take them away from the civilian health system.
Zilberman told reporters that some 1,000 troops from the IDF’s Homefront Command will provide food and medicine for at-risk populations who are stuck in their homes.
Last week the Homefront Command along with the Israel Police and Health Ministry opened two quarantine facilities, Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama hotel and Jerusalem’s Dan hotel, to isolate those diagnosed with the virus as well as provide them with medical care as needed.
The army has also converted the IDF’s holiday village at Ashkelon of “Yahad – United for Israel’s Soldiers” into an inpatient facility for soldiers who have been diagnosed with the virus.
According to Zilberman, the state has opened another facility on the Kinneret to quarantine a planeload of Israelis returning from Italy and another facility will be opened for Israelis returning from India.
Also on Wednesday, the military announced that the Israeli and US militaries will hold a joint aerial exercise in southern Israel in which F-35 fighter jets will take part.
The drill, which is part of the IDF's regular 2020 training schedule, will begin Tuesday afternoon and last until Thursday evening and during that time residents of the area might notice a high number of fighter jets.
In a statement, the IDF said that since the drill will be held solely in the air with no person-to-person contact, it will take place despite the military’s ban on international exercises with foreign militaries due to the continued spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking with reporters, Zilberman said that the military is continuing with its normal operational capabilities with several changes made in order to prevent the spread of the virus such as keeping troops on base for a month to limit contact with potential carriers.
But, he said, it’s a matter of time before troops confined to their bases come down with the virus as food and other supplies are delivered to bases.
"Within the military, we are also preparing for mass contamination of troops and are separating teams to avoid such scenarios,” he said. “It could happen to us. It probably will happen to us.”