708 of 2,173 ventilators in hospitals nationwide are in use

As ventilators run short, health chief ‘not optimistic’ there’ll be enough

Knesset coronavirus committee hears there are just 1,437 spare breathing machines; Health Ministry says stored devices, army can boost number to 2,864

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Staff and Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv move a patient to a new ward, March 22, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: Staff and Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv move a patient to a new ward, March 22, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The director general of the Health Ministry on Thursday said he was “not optimistic” that the healthcare system would be able to properly deal for much longer with the scope of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I cannot say I’m optimistic about the ability to treat everyone who needs it,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told Army Radio. “The number could be huge. That is why we are pressuring for the implementation of drastic steps.”

Bar Siman-Tov noted that the total number of patients in the country was doubling every three days, and that much is still unknown in dealing with the COVID-19 disease.

Also on Thursday, the Knesset committee overseeing the campaign against the outbreak heard that the country has at most 1,437 ventilator machines still available to treat patients.

Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020 (Flash90)

Of a total 2,173 machines in medical centers, 708 are currently in use and another 28 are not working, according to a review prepared for the committee by the Knesset Research and Information Center.

The report came amid concerns that as the number of coronavirus cases diagnosed in the country continues to climb, there may not be enough ventilators to treat all of the most seriously ill, leaving doctors with life and death decisions on whom to keep alive.

As of Thursday morning there were 2,495 people diagnosed with the coronavirus, with 41 in serious condition, according to Health Ministry figures that did not specify the number of patients on ventilator machines.

When quizzed about a possible looming lack of equipment, Bar Siman-Tov told committee chair MK Ofer Shelah that there are additional machines in storage, and others held by the armed forces and in the private sector.

Bar Siman-Tov said there are 1,500 machines in storage, and the Israel Defense Forces has another 800-900 that the ministry hopes will be made available.

A Magen David Adom worker is seen at a drive-through coronavirus testing facility in Jerusalem on March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In addition, health officials are working on ordering thousands more machines from abroad, though Bar Siman-Tov noted, “We don’t know how many of those will arrive.”

Furthermore, the ministry is looking at the option of manufacturing ventilator machines locally to add a few hundred more devices to the total.

Bar Siman-Tov stressed that the key statistic to keep an eye on is the number of serious patients with the disease and the rate at which it increases.

“I estimate that within a week we will have 200 patients in serious condition, and we are directing strategic readiness towards an ability to deal with the serious patients,” he said. So far, five people have died of the disease in Israel.

With the Jewish festival of Passover and the Muslim period of Ramadan approaching next month, Bar Siman-Tov warned “the coming two weeks are very critical to our success in dealing with the morbidity rate.” The Health Ministry said Wednesday that Israelis will be barred from celebrating Passover with family members who don’t live in the same home as them.

Screen capture from video of MK Ofir Shelah (L) and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov during a Knesset committee meeting to discuss efforts to curb the coronavirus outbreak, March 26, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson)

Committee chair Shelah told Bar Siman-Tov that after the week-long Passover festival, which starts on April 8, the ministry must present to the committee “your strategy for dealing with the situation. We would like to see a strategy that shows how the Israel deals with and exits the situation, with reference to the issues raised here: ventilators, special populations and the like.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told government ministers during a cabinet meeting overnight Tuesday that if the current pace of new coronavirus infections continues, Israel will have to decide whom to administer artificial respiration to, Channel 12 news reported.

“If the current pace of infection continues for another 15 days [that is, with the number of cases doubling every three days], we’ll find ourselves in a situation where we’ll have to decide who to put on ventilators and who not,” he was quoted as saying in the Wednesday report, apparently because there will be insufficient ventilators for all who need them.

Netanyahu said in a televised statement Wednesday that Israel was making significant efforts to acquire additional medical equipment, amid the reported shortage of ventilators.

Police set up temporary ‘checkpoints’ at the entrance to Jerusalem to check people are not disobeying the governments orders on a partial lockdown, March 26, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

Israel on Wednesday evening introduced its strictest measures yet at curbing a spread of the disease, ordering an almost total lockdown of the population, similar to the restrictions applied in Italy that have been lauded as finally bringing a slowdown in the rate of infection in that country, where over 7,000 people have died from the outbreak.

The Health Ministry said Thursday morning that 2,495 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus and that 41 are in serious condition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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