Virus crisis will be over by next year, says ex-COVID-19 czar, citing vaccines

Ronni Gamzu expects massive production in various countries will produce enough immunization units during first half of 2021

Screen capture from video of Israel's former coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu during the Israel Democracy Institute's annual Center for National Security and Democracy conference, held online, November 24, 2020. (Israel Democracy Institue)
Screen capture from video of Israel's former coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu during the Israel Democracy Institute's annual Center for National Security and Democracy conference, held online, November 24, 2020. (Israel Democracy Institue)

Israel’s former coronavirus czar has predicted that vaccines being developed for the virus will succeed in stemming the deadly global pandemic, and that by next year the crisis will be over.

“The coronavirus crisis will end in 2021,” Gamzu told an Israel Democracy Institute conference Tuesday. “In my opinion, the vaccine will be successful. We will see in the first half of 2021 massive marketing and production of the vaccine, probably not just from one company.”

On the first day of the two-day online conference Gamzu — who ended his term leading the country’s campaign against the virus outbreak earlier this month — also touched on a controversial aspect of Israel’s effort against the virus: a cellphone tracking program that the government uses to track COVID-19 contagion, monitoring citizens’ movements so that those who come into contact with carriers could be ordered into quarantine.

The program makes use of capabilities of the Shin Beit security agency, and the information it collects is passed on to health officials.

“The use of [Shin Bet] tools deprives all the decision-makers of sleep,” Gamzu said, according to a press release from IDI. “Nevertheless, the State of Israel is very careful about privacy. In Israel, the struggle against the pandemic does not infringe on privacy at this stage, and decision-makers do their utmost to reach balance all the time. Everyone is trying to get through this incident with a minimum of invasion of privacy.”

Head of the IDF Home Front Command Uri Gordin in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front commander, Major General Uri Gordin, said at the same conference that while the military can, and is, helping in the virus efforts, it should not be put in charge of the entire campaign.

“The Health Ministry should be in charge of managing the pandemic,” he said. “We can help, and we do a great deal. I do not think we should engage in enforcement missions, I do not think the military should engage in civilian policy; it is not our job. The political echelon should formulate civilian policy and the Health Ministry should formulate health policy. Our job is to assist them.”

The IDF is running a large contact tracing operation involving thousands of servicepeople, but some — notably former defense minister and Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett — have called for the Defense Ministry to be given overall control of handling the virus.

Israel has stuck deals for vaccines with pharma companies Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Arcturus, and is in negotiations with other companies developing shots.

The country is also in talks with Russia to receive its Sputnik V vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.

A man receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Israel is expected to acquire doses for 12 million people — enough vaccines for everyone in the country.

However, none of the deals guarantee a deadline for the arrival of the vaccines. And though all the companies are in various advanced stages of development and testing, no vaccine has so far been approved for general use by regulators in the US and Europe.

Israel is also working on a homegrown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates.

Gamzu handed over his job on November 12 to to Nachman Ash and returned to his position as director-general of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

At a handover ceremony, Gamzu criticized the country’s political leadership throughout the pandemic and said his successor would face an uphill battle in dealing with the government.

The coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, has infected nearly 60 million people worldwide and killed over 1.4 million, according to figures from the John Hopkins University medical center virus monitoring website.

In Israel, since the start of the outbreak in the country earlier this year there have been 331,179 cases diagnosed, according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday. There are 9,064 active cases and 2,822 people have died.

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