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Gantz orders IDF to build field hospital for virus cases as hospitals fill up

With cases spiking, defense minister also deploys 600 additional Home Front soldiers across the country to conduct contact tracing

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a meeting to assessment the Israel Defense Force's treatment of the coronavirus, September 21, 2020 (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a meeting to assessment the Israel Defense Force's treatment of the coronavirus, September 21, 2020 (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday ordered the military to prepare to establish a field hospital for coronavirus cases as hospitals overflow across the country.

“Gantz has ordered staff to begin preparations to build an army field hospital that would contain about 200 beds,” a statement from the Defense Ministry said.

Israel hit a record high on Monday, registering 51,503 active infections. While a three-week nationwide lockdown was instituted on Friday to contain the outbreak, numerous violations were reported across the country. Many health experts have said that they do not expect that the lockdown will effectively flatten the curve of the virus.

At least two major hospitals in Israel — Assuta in Ashdod and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek — announced that they will no longer accept coronavirus cases due to overload.

Other coronavirus wards at a number of major hospitals around the country have topped 100 percent capacity — Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem (129%) and Hadassah Mount Scopus (100%), Netanya’s Laniado hospital (120%), and Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center (109%).

Both Hadassah and Sheba announced that they were continuing to accept coronavirus cases as usual on Monday.

Israeli soldiers wear face masks at a police roadblock in Tel Aviv during the nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“Hadassah is expanding its corona hospitalization wing and is not collapsing,” Hadassah Ein Kerem spokesperson Hadar Elboim said in a statement.

Gantz also ordered the military to begin planning for an exit strategy to the lockdown, as well as for the possibility that further reinforcements will be required by police should the lockdown become more severe.

The Israel Defense Forces will send hundreds of additional soldiers to work as coronavirus contact tracers in the coming days, the military announced on Monday.

Transferring responsibility for contact tracing over to the IDF was one of coronavirus czar Ronnie Gamzu’s first moves after taking on his position. In early September, Gamzu said that the program might not be operational until November 1.

As part of the program, the army said 600 regular soldiers will be diverted from their normal positions, in addition to dozens of reservists.

Thousands of Home Front Command soldiers were deployed last week throughout the country to work with local authorities in handling the pandemic. The soldiers are not responsible for directly enforcing the lockdown; rather, they conduct tests, run quarantine hotels and distribute food.

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