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Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi picked to lead IDF’s ‘Coronavirus Command’

Newly formed unit tasked with ‘breaking the chain of infection’ by rapidly finding COVID-19 carriers and those who may have come in contact with them

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) bumps elbows with Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi, who was tasked with leading the military's Coronavirus Command on August 4, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) bumps elbows with Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi, who was tasked with leading the military's Coronavirus Command on August 4, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi on Tuesday was tapped to lead the Israel Defense Forces’ so-called Coronavirus Command, which is responsible for overseeing the military’s pandemic-related activities and assisting in the national response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Coronavirus Command was created last week by order of Defense Minister Benny Gantz as a unit within the IDF Home Front Command. It was specifically tasked with “breaking the chain of infection” by improving the country’s testing capacity to find carriers of the disease, overseeing an epidemiological survey network to identify those who may have been in contact with the patients and rapidly get them into quarantine.

It is the country’s third task force overseeing the fight against the disease, joining the “coronavirus cabinet” made up of government ministers and an advisory group of experts assisting the government’s coronavirus point person, Ronni Gamzu.

The unit will be made up of roughly 2,000 people, Home Front Command chief Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin told reporters Tuesday.

Home Front Command chief Uri Gordin presides over a meeting in the military’s Coronavirus Command headquarters in Ramle on August 4, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The [Coronavirus] Command will include various centers, group and teams, including a sampling center, quarantine center, coronavirus hotel control center, an analysis group, public relations team, testing center and contact tracing center,” the IDF said in a statement.

The Coronavirus Command, which is due to begin operations at either the end of this week or beginning of next, will work with national and local authorities in order to speed up the process of locating potential carriers of the coronavirus and preventing them from spreading the disease. This will include the Health Ministry, Defense Ministry, the Shin Bet security service, and municipalities.

“The new command will operate on the national level to help cut the chain of infection by bringing together and connecting all the [relevant] government bodies and tools into one system,” the IDF said in a statement.

The military said the Coronavirus Command will reach full functionality within a month and will remain in operation for several months.

An IDF soldier tests a coronavirus sample in a military lab in an undated photograph, released on August 4, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The unit will answer directly to Gordin and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, but will operate in accordance with policies set by the Health Ministry and the government’s coronavirus point-person Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Coronavirus Command’s headquarters on the Home Front Command’s base in Ramle, along with Gantz, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Eyal Zamir, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, right, visits the military’s Coronavirus Command in Ramle on August 4, 2020. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“I was deeply impressed by the industrial enterprise here for breaking the chain of infection. Great efforts are being made here. There is full coordination with the Health Ministry and, of course, with national coronavirus project manager Prof. Ronni Gamzu. They are working together, coordinating with mayors, and trying to create something that in my opinion does not exist in the world – the capacity to break [the chain of infection] at a very high level, with a very great scope,” Netanyahu said.

Davidi, who previously served as the chief logistics officer for the IDF Home Front Command and in other logistics-related roles, was chosen for the position by Gordin and Kohavi, the military said. The nomination was approved by Gantz.

Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi, who was tasked with leading the military’s Coronavirus Command on August 4, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Davidi was meant to retire from the military, but decided to postpone his exit to lead the Coronavirus Command, the IDF said.

The command was formed last Tuesday after coronavirus czar Gamzu gave the Defense Ministry and IDF responsibility for conducting epidemiological surveys, tracking the spread of the disease by retracing the movement of confirmed carriers.

“This special command will work to shorten test times, improve laboratories’ processes, [and] operate a large network of epidemiological surveyors; it will ensure rapid quarantining of patients and will assess and analyze the spread of the disease in order to establish policies,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement at the time.

Earlier this week, the ministry was tasked by Gamzu with performing epidemiological surveys for the country, tracking the spread of the disease by retracing the movement of confirmed carriers.

IDF soldiers with disinfection equipment walk through a building, in an undated photograph, released on August 4, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Sunday, Gantz approved the call-up of 3,000 reservists — mostly from the IDF Home Front Command — to assist in the formation of the Coronavirus Command and other aspects of the military’s pandemic response.

Israel had largely succeeded in containing the spread of the virus during the initial outbreak, with the number of new daily cases dropping to the low dozens by May. However, following the rollback of most restrictions, there was a surge in infections, with recent weeks seeing around 2,000 new cases per day.

According to Health Ministry statistics released Tuesday morning, 1,801 new coronavirus cases were recorded the previous day, with the total number of infections since the pandemic began rising to 75,083.

Of the 24,764 active cases, there were 349 people in serious condition, with 97 on ventilators. Another 139 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms. The Health Ministry reported eight more fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the national toll to 554.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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