As infections stay high, officials warn of PPE shortage in Israel from September

Country said to be short 240 million gloves, as well as lacking protective suits; senior government officials reportedly say medics may soon need to choose who’ll get advanced care

Medics work with COVID-19 patients at the isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on July 29, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Medics work with COVID-19 patients at the isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on July 29, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The National Security Council has warned the government and Health Ministry that Israel could face a shortage of the protective equipment needed by medical staff to treat virus patients as soon as next month, Army Radio reported Tuesday.

The NSC said that Israel was due to run out of disposable gloves in September, will have a shortage of robes in October and will have exhausted supplies of protective suits in November, the radio report said.

The calculations, presented to the government on Sunday, were made on the basis of a number of parameters including expectations of infection rates and models calculating how much Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used by hospital and emergency services staff.

According to the NSC, Israel needs a supply of 300 million gloves, but currently has just 60 million. Additionally there are only 6 million disposable robes in comparison to the 25 million required, and the country is in possession of just 1.5 million protective suits in comparison to the calculated requirement of 12 million.

A Magen David Adom paramedic wearing protective clothing evacuates a patient with COVID-19, outside the coronavirus unit at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, July 19, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

According to the report, individual hospitals are already starting to prepare three months ahead so as not to be left empty-handed.

The Health Ministry told the outlet that it was making efforts to ensure Israel does not suffer a shortage of equipment.

“There is a global shortage and we are making efforts to overcome the gap. We are making procurement efforts so that there is no shortage of stock,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Senior unnamed political officials told Army Radio on Tuesday that Israel was getting close to the point where medical teams would need to start prioritizing treatment among critically ill patients.

“We are closer than ever to situations where doctors will have to make difficult decisions about [who they will prioritize for] connecting to a heart-lung machine,” an official told the outlet.

A medical team at the coronavirus unit at Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A Knesset committee heard last week that Israel managed to increase its hospital capacity by just 19 beds since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to data from the Knesset Research and Information Center (RIC), in February the country had a total of 16,302 beds, which had increased to just 16,321 by July, the Ynet news site reported.

The RIC report was presented to the Knesset’s Special Committee for Public Petitions, which held discussions on overcrowding in hospitals during the pandemic.

According to the report, some beds for coronavirus patients were taken from other departments, rather than overall capacity of the hospitals being increased.

A global shortage of equipment became clear at the start of the pandemic with the bulk of production being Asian in origin with China producing around 50 percent of global stocks of surgical varieties.

With the pandemic starting in China, the country felt bound to distribute on home soil first. When Chinese exports did resume demand was frantic, leaving major shortages.

At the beginning of the first wave of infections in Israel, the Defense Ministry’s Department of Production and Procurement was drafted to help obtain medical equipment amid global shortages, including for ventilators, many of which were reportedly later found to be faulty. It is unknown how many functional breathing machines the country has.

According to a report by the Haaretz daily last month, a large chunk of the PPE which was bought for around NIS 750 million (approximately $220 million) from unspecified countries, was also later found to be substandard.

A discarded mask lays on the ground in Lima, near to where people wait to register in a list to return to their home province of Abancay, Peru, April 23, 2020 (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The report said that officials were forced to act fast and purchase whatever they could — including orders worth around NIS 60 million ($17.6 million) from the Max Stock chain of dollar stores for face masks, coveralls and shoe covers for medical personnel.

The government has faced criticism that it wasted any possible advantage after the first wave of infections ebbed, squandering time that could have been used to increase capacity in the healthcare system as well as improve virus testing and epidemiological contact tracing.

In May, the Calcalist financial daily reported that the Health Ministry was seeking to order 2,000 more hospital beds and significantly stock and upgrade Israel’s ICUs to the tune of NIS 1.5 billion ($441 million).

“We have to be prepared for the next wave and take advantage proactively of the time we have to set things up as much as possible,” the newspaper quoted then-Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov in a letter to National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat.

Last week the heads of two Jerusalem medical centers reported that they were overstretched and in dire financial straits as coronavirus infections continued to rise.

There are 812 hospitalized coronavirus patients in Israel, according to Health Ministry figures released Monday morning, including 381 people in serious condition, of whom 110 are on ventilators.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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