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Director of Safed hospital appointed coronavirus czar

Salman Zarka, a Bedouin professor, is already on COVID-19 advisory panel; he served in IDF for 25 years and oversaw field hospital that treated Syrian civil war wounded

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

Director of Ziv Medical Center Salman Zarka attends a ceremony at the hospital in the northern city of Safed, on February 25, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Director of Ziv Medical Center Salman Zarka attends a ceremony at the hospital in the northern city of Safed, on February 25, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Salman Zarka, director of the Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed, was appointed coronavirus czar on Wednesday, taking over from Nachman Ash who left the position to become director-general of the Health Ministry.

He will be the third person to hold the position since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.

Zarka, 57, takes up the role as Israel deals with a resurgence of COVID-19 infections that has seen the daily caseload rocket to over 700 from barely two dozen a month earlier.

In a Health Ministry statement announcing the appointment, Zarka, who is from the Bedouin community, thanked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for his appointment.

The coronavirus outbreak is “a complicated subject that touches on national security,” he said. “We have to take into account all the considerations and broad implications of dealing with the virus.”

Horowitz said “the last few weeks have shown that the challenge of the coronavirus will be with us for a long time to come. I have no doubt that Prof. Zarka’s vast experience and skills will be a great asset for us in the Health Ministry and for all Israeli citizens.”

Then-coronavirus czar Nachman Ash attends a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ash said that Zarka is “a natural choice for the role of virus czar in at a time when we are dealing with rising morbidity figures.”

Zarka, a major-general in the IDF reserves, led the Ziv hospital for the past seven years. He is also a member of the national coronavirus advisory panel of experts.

He holds a master’s degree in epidemiology and public health from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he is now a senior lecturer in the department of military medicine. Zarka also has a degree in political science and national security from the University of Haifa.

He ended his 25 years of military service in 2014, at which time he was commander of the IDF Center for Medical Services and the head of health department in the Medical Corps. In 2013 he set up and oversaw an IDF field hospital on the Israeli-Syrian border that treated Syrians wounded in the Syrian civil war.

Last month Horowitz announced that he was appointing Ash as the ministry’s new director-general. Ash became virus czar last October, taking over from Ronni Gamzu. Ash moved to the Health Ministry on Monday.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed there were 754 new virus patients diagnosed the day before and that there are 5,172 active cases in the country. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 847,969 COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Israel and 6,440 people have died of the disease.

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