Israel in ‘dangerous place’ as viral infections increase

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Infections are skyrocketing, the government has re-established a partial lockdown, and the country’s top health official left office in frustration – hopes that Israel had successfully contained the spread of the coronavirus have been dashed this week.

More than 1,000 people were confirmed ill Tuesday, the second day in less than a week, of new infections over a thousand – ten times the figure that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, previously claimed was manageable for the system underinvested in the country.

On the same day, the senior Israeli health official, Siegal Sadetzki, resigned, warning that the government’s inaction and delays were leading the country to “a dangerous place”.

“For several weeks, the management of the epidemic has lost its direction,” wrote Ms. Sadetzki on her personal Facebook page. “Despite systematic and regular warnings in the different systems. . . we watch with frustration the hourglass of opportunities running out. ”

His resignation came as a surprise, including to Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein, who this week announced the closure of bars, cultural venues, swimming pools and gymnasiums in an attempt to contain the epidemic.

Israel “has lost control of the pandemic,” precipitating the “biggest civil crisis in the country,” said Eli Waxman, who heads the government’s advisory group this week. “In the current situation, with 1,000 new infections per day, we can no longer disrupt the chain of infection even if there was an operational system to do so,” he said in a TV statement. Israel recorded a total of 31,271 cases and 338 people died.

This contrasts sharply with Israel’s early successes in containing the pandemic, which included the large-scale self-isolation of tens of thousands of Israelis returning from abroad in February. This was followed by a national lockdown from mid-March to the end of April which reduced the number of new infections to 20 per day. Schools, bars and restaurants have reopened and tens of thousands of Israelis have gathered on the beaches.

But Ms. Sadetzki, who could not be reached for comment, and two other government advisers, who asked not to be named, said that since then the departments have not had the resources to implement place an effective tracking and tracing program, nor have they been able to increase testing to the point where epidemics could be quickly stopped.

“We had this initial calm period and now realize that we do not know for sure where the virus is at any given time – the random clusters are positive and the patterns are unpredictable,” said an adviser to the ministry of Health. “The big concern is not the number, it’s just the headline – it’s that there are new cases everywhere we look. ”

The advisers, who had both informed the Minister of Health or the Prime Minister’s assistants in previous days, said the government had been slow in responding to their warnings.

Instead of setting up a civilian tracking and tracing program similar to Germany or South Korea, Netanyahu rejected his own security chief’s objections to using a recently disclosed national database mobile phone location data to alert people to self-isolation if they have been near an infected person.

“It doesn’t work,” said the Shin Bet security system advisor to the Ministry of Health. Critics say it works poorly in tall apartment buildings and tall towers.

Meanwhile, internal political struggles within the coalition have meant that synagogues have remained open in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, although they were identified as a primary vector of transmission during the first epidemic. More than half of those seriously ill or hospitalized were from the religious minority, said the second counselor.

“You have to react quickly, be agile, or you end up with a nationwide lockdown,” said the official, requesting anonymity because he criticized government decisions.

New closings would hurt the economy, forcing the government to continue paying billions of shekels in unemployment benefits while tax revenues are expected to fall sharply. The central bank kept interest rates at a historic low of 0.1% on Monday and launched a corporate bond purchase program. He predicted that the economy would contract by 6%.

“The pandemic is spreading; it is as clear as the sun, “Netanyahu warned on Sunday after bragging earlier that Israel was in control of the epidemic. “If we don’t act now, we will have hundreds, and possibly over 1,000, of serious cases in the weeks to come, which will cripple our systems.”

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