Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday responded to the former director of public health in his ministry, rejecting her criticism that the authorities have “lost their way” in their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I understand her feeling, but nobody has lost their way. For several reasons, we are now facing unnecessary difficulties in dealing with the crisis,” Edelstein told the Kan public broadcaster.
In a lengthy post on her Facebook page on Tuesday, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki announced her resignation and described a chaotic and ineffective approach to tackling the crisis as infection rates soared to some 1,000 a day.
Critics have accused the government of a belated response to the sharp rise in cases and attacked the Health Ministry’s failure to carry out effective contact tracing and epidemiological probes to contain the outbreak.
“The previous government acted within emergency regulations — they would make decisions in the cabinet and it would be done. [Now] the public hears that the government has decided something, but it doesn’t take effect [yet],” Edelstein said, a day after MKs passed legislation allowing the cabinet to impose coronavirus restrictions immediately and only later seek Knesset approval.
“All the decisions are made as part of the discussion, but in the end, I, as minister, make the call, as it should be in any standard system,” he said. “That was how the decision was made to expand the testing system. Sadetzki wanted only patients with symptoms and we changed direction. Her position was right for that time but when the circumstances changed, the decisions changed.”
A Ynet report on Wednesday said the Health Ministry was planning to tighten the criteria for carrying out coronavirus testing in a bid to ease pressure on an overwhelmed system, including by stopping tests for possible asymptomatic carriers.
Most carriers of COVID-19 have only mild symptoms or none at all. Experts fear that asymptomatic patients can transfer the contagion to others, and some advocate making massive testing as a critical element in getting a grip on the spread of the virus, especially when lockdown measures are rolled back.
Edelstein also said that officials were working to reduce infection rates from over 1,000 per day to closer to 100 within the coming weeks, and hoped to prevent an overburdening of the health system.
“People didn’t want to hear things that were less pleasant. I said I was sorry to spoil the celebration, but… the virus did not consult me on when to attack,” he said. “If we dawdle in our decision-making, we will be in the second wave.”
The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over a thousand a day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high of more than 13,600.
The current increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the sharpest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.
Sadetzki announced her resignation on Tuesday, warning that “Israel is heading to a dangerous place.”
“I acknowledge the privilege it was for me to play a significant role in leading the fight against the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, at critical moments for the State of Israel and its citizens,” Sadeszki wrote in her Facebook post.
“To my regret, for a number of weeks now, the handling of the outbreak has lost direction,” she wrote. “Despite systematic and regular warnings in the various systems, and discussions in various forums, we watch with frustration as the hourglass of opportunities runs low. Against this backdrop, I have come to the conclusion that in the newly created conditions under which my professional opinion is not accepted — I can no longer help to effectively cope with the spread of the virus.”
Sadetzki wrote that “too much time is invested in debates, discussions, consultants, forums and those acting for themselves, while the level of operation and details required for the success of the various operations do not receive the proper attention.”
Sadetzki also said that the turnover among people filling key roles in the battle against the virus is too high, with officials barely learning the ropes before being replaced by others, who then have to start their own learning process.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.