Death Toll Mounts As Israel Still Ill-Prepared For Spike In Coronavirus Patients

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Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Ministers office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. Photo by Flash90

JERUSALEM (VINnews) — Despite increasing the stringent regulations on the lockdown, Israel continues to count increasing numbers of coronavirus patients and the death toll has also begun to mount, with three more Israelis dying Thursday from the deadly virus, bringing the total number of dead to 8 ,all of whom died in the past week.

The Jerusalem Post reports that at the first meeting of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee Thursday, members of the committee and Moshe SimanTov, the director-general of the Health Ministry reviewed a report prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center that showed that there are only 1,437 available respirators in Israel and only 758 ICU beds.

In addition, the report showed an acute shortage of protective masks and other gear for healthcare workers. As of March 25, there were 3,600 healthcare workers in isolation, including 926 doctors and 1,192 nurses due to inadequate safety procedures available to protect them from the virus.

Simantov took issue with the numbers presented in the report, claiming that “We have in stock about 1,500 usable and available respirators.”  He added that “there are another 70 respirators in the private system that we will use as well. We currently have 2,864 machines above those currently in use, assuming they are all in working order.”

He admitted however that Israel had not increased the number of respirators or emergency room beds despite being aware of the potential for a coronavirus crisis two months ago. Simantov claimed that “this event is a tsunami that could not have been prepared for.”

He added that the main goal of the lockdown at present is to “flatten the curve”, meaning to prevent a sharp peak of cases within a small time frame and to buy the health authorities valuable time to prepare for the expected thousands of cases which will appear in the coming weeks.

“We want to take hard steps now to allow us some degree of freedom after Passover to try to free the economy a little in a managed and controlled way… We especially want to reduce the number of patients who are suffering and conquer the illness significantly,” he said. “We are very scared of what will happen on Passover and Ramadan when people come out and meet each other – this is the most dangerous thing there is. The next two weeks are critical for our success against the disease.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Israel had 2,666 people who had been diagnosed with the virus – 39 in serious condition. The Knesset report showed that between March 20 and March 25 – 5 days – the number of patients in serious condition more than doubled.

“We are in a situation where the number of sick is doubling every three days,” said Bar Siman Tov. He estimated that within a week, the country will have about 200 severely ill patients.
“This is serious – a matter of days; I don’t like the word lockdown, but we are close to a full closure,” he said.

The Health Ministry reported that most Israelis have mild cases of the virus: 2,483. Some 68 people are mild condition and 68 people have recovered.

Part of the reason for the sharp increase in sick persons is that Israel has increased the number of people it is testing for the virus. Until March 25, Israel had tested around 33,000 people, but increased from an average of 1,000 tests per day to more than 5,000. In total, around 6% of those screened for COVID-19 have tested positive, however, that is since testing began last month. As more tests are being done per day, the country is seeing an average of 9% of people tested being diagnosed with the virus. If the percentage of infected people keeps rising to even 10% or 12% it could place a heavy burden on the already fully stretched Israel health system.

Of specific concern are elderly patients. Bar Siman Tov said that there are around 26,000 beds in geriatric centers and the people who fill them are at the greatest risk.

“We are trying to bring the Home Front Command into these institutions,” he said. “We requested assistance from the Defense Ministry.”

But Head of National Security Meir Ben-Shabbat admitted during the meeting that the NSC was also not prepared for the coronavirus crisis: “We had to formulate the management mechanism on the go,” he said. “These are not perfect decisions… There is no official format for how the government should behave in a situation like this.”

Spike “Public confidence in the system is critical,” MK Ofer Shelah, who chairs the committee said. “Every answer is more worrying than the previous one… The government does not have a national, economic and health strategy for managing our lives beyond Passover, and basic shortages are not being addressed,” Shelah concluded.

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