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Bennett rolls out plan to bolster hospitals ahead of expected COVID onslaught

PM defends decision to leave economy humming along despite rising coronavirus rates, says he is pained by serious illnesses but also by closed businesses

A health worker in the coronavirus ward at Ziv hospital in Safed on August 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A health worker in the coronavirus ward at Ziv hospital in Safed on August 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday unveiled a NIS 2.5 billion plan to bolster Israeli hospitals ahead of an expected influx of coronavirus patients and defended his government’s decision to allow businesses to remain open and avoid other drastic measures despite rocketing case numbers.

Describing the plan as a “booster shot” for hospitals, Bennett said the government would immediately provide funding to add 770 beds to hospitals and bring in 2,000 more health workers as well as 3,000 medical students.

He said the additions would double hospitals’ capacity for coronavirus patients in serious condition from 1,200 to 2,400 patients.

“The Delta variant is flooding the world and we are waging a determined campaign to fight it,” he said in televised remarks.

Bennett also said a scheme for health maintenance funds to place patients in so-called home hospitalization would be expanded from 1,000 beds to 1,400 beds. Funding will also be provided to add medical staff to the health funds and geriatric care centers.

His announcement came a day after health officials reportedly showed him figures forecasting that within a month Israel could see hospitals overrun with 4,800 coronavirus patients, half of whom would be suffering from serious bouts of COVID-19.

Israel would need to add 100 doctors, 500 nurses and 200 other health workers and support staff every 10 days to keep pace, the officials had told Bennett, according to a summary of the meeting published by the Ynet news site.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends an inauguration ceremony marking the opening of a new police station in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Ata, August 11, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

“We have to raise hospital capacity to buy time until the vaccination campaign goes into effect and starts to stem the outbreak,” Bennett said Wednesday, referring to Israel’s campaign to provide booster shots to some of those who have already been vaccinated.

He described the move as “a campaign for health, but also for the economy,” acknowledging the tension between attempting to bring case numbers down by implementing far-ranging restrictions while seeking to keep businesses open.

“I’m pained by every serious illness, by every family that loses someone to the coronavirus or the Delta variant, but I’m also pained by every business owner who loses everything because the crisis collapses his company or for every kid who spends 200 days at home and wastes away on Zoom,” he said.

Israel recorded 5,755 new cases on Tuesday, and over 6,000 on Monday, hitting numbers not seen since February during the country’s most serious outbreak, the Health Ministry said.

A line of cars waiting to enter a drive-thru coronavirus testing center in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

There were 400 patients in serious condition as of Wednesday morning, out of 694 people hospitalized in coronavirus units. The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 6,580, nine more than a day earlier.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said at a press conference that along with bolstering hospitals, Israel also needed to implement measures to restrict mass gatherings, calling the rising morbidity rate “worrying.”

Ministers were slated to meet later Wednesday on expanding the Green Pass system, which is designed to restrict access to many venues to those who have been vaccinated, recovered from the virus, or can show a negative test from less than 72 hours earlier.

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