Ex-general said to be leading candidate to spearhead virus response
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Ex-general said to be leading candidate to spearhead virus response

Roni Numa reportedly among several people being considered for new post announced by health chief; Gantz, Edelstein agree to expand cooperation between defense, health ministries

Then-head of the IDF Central Command Major General Roni Numa at a ceremony at Gush Ezion junction, in the West Bank, on December 13, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Then-head of the IDF Central Command Major General Roni Numa at a ceremony at Gush Ezion junction, in the West Bank, on December 13, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

A former military general is the leading candidate to spearhead Israel’s response to the renewed coronavirus outbreak, according to a TV report Tuesday.

In a press conference Monday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said he will soon name “a special manager for the campaign against the coronavirus.”

“His role will be to integrate the matter, beginning with the testing system, through disrupting the infection chain and other activities related to the virus,” Edelstein said.

According to Channel 13, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Roni Numa is considered a favorite for the post. The network said a number of other candidates are being considered, but didn’t name them.

Numa, who retired from the military in 2018, was appointed earlier this year to lead Bnei Brak’s response to the pandemic. The majority-ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb was put on lockdown in April due to the high infection rate there.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews study in small groups at a Gur yeshiva in Bnei Brak, on June 16, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Edelstein’s announcement Monday came amid calls for elements of Israel’s response to the pandemic to be shifted away from the Health Ministry, which has faced criticism over its handling of testing and its allegedly overwhelmed contact tracing system.

Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have pushed back on these calls, with the premier reportedly threatening new elections during a cabinet meeting last week, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz said greater responsibility should be given to his ministry.

Hebrew media reports quoted both Netanyahu and Edelstein accusing Gantz of “playing politics” by saying the IDF’s Home Front Command should take on a larger role in the virus response.

On Tuesday, Edelstein and Gantz went on a joint tour of the Home Front Command’s headquarters. The latter’s office said they agreed to expand cooperation between their ministries in combating the virus, without further elaborating.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L); Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C); and Maj. Gen. Uri Gordon (R), head of the the IDF’s Home Front Command, tour the HFC headquarters on July 7, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In a video statement, Gantz hailed the Home Front Command’s “fantastic operational capabilities” in times of emergency such as wars.

“But even during the coronavirus era we’re in, the cooperation between bodies can improve service for citizens,” he said.

Speaking alongside Gantz, Edelstein cited the need for greater cooperation and thanked the Home Front Command, which has assisted in delivering food to virus-hit communities and operated special “hotels” for COVID-19 patients.

“Unfortunately, we all see the number of sick people rising. There’s need for real cooperation and we can defeat the virus, [but] only together,” Edelstein said.

Earlier Tuesday, a host of new restrictions to contain the virus took effect, including stricter limitations on restaurants and gatherings.

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 some 1,000 per day, and the number of active cases has reached an all-time high of more than 12,300.

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