Health chief warns of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections
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Health chief warns of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus infections

A winter outbreak could be far more ‘complicated and challenging’ than the current one, cautions Health Ministry director Moshe Bar Siman-Tov

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is seen at a drive-through site for coronavirus testing samples collection, in Tel Aviv, on March 20, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov is seen at a drive-through site for coronavirus testing samples collection, in Tel Aviv, on March 20, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Israel’s health chief said Monday that his ministry was preparing for the possibility of another coronavirus outbreak next winter, and cautioned that such an outbreak would be “much more complicated and challenging” than the current one.

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said it was “relatively lucky” that the current outbreak did not coincide with flu season, raising concerns about a further phase of coronavirus coinciding with winter flu.

“We do know there’s probably not going to be any vaccine [by] winter,” he noted.

Bar Siman-Tov made his comments in a conference call with diplomats from around the world, during which he also raised the possibility of a further wave of the virus before next winter. At one point, he commented that “we are afraid of a second wave — it’s a possibility,” and said that, if it happens, Israel would take similar steps to those that were in force before Sunday’s easing of restrictions.

Bar Siman-Tov said that “nobody really knows” how long the crisis will last, but voiced confidence that “smarter solutions” will help Israel attain a greater sense of normalcy, and mentioned the possibility of an eventual vaccine, as well as medicine and testing.

Israeli police check cars for lockdown violations at a temporary roadblock in the Arab-Israeli village of Deir el-Assad, on April 16, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

He predicted that a vaccine will take “far longer than we think,” but said later in the call that there could be technological innovations that help the country reach a semblance of normalcy sooner than people expect.

Still, Bar Siman-Tov noted that any future routine would be a “COVID-19 routine,” and said he was uncertain where reviving international travel will fit in.

“Maybe there’s going to be another cycle and another cycle, maybe now, maybe in wintertime, but we’re going to go back to COVID-19 routine,” he commented. “I’m not sure whether flights would be part of this routine menu, or when [the routine] is going to happen, but I think that eventually we will find a way to do it.”

Bar Siman-Tov said that at the start of the outbreak his ministry did not think about striking a balance between different national interests and insisted steps should be taken to protect the nation’s health without consideration for the economic impact,

But now, he said, Israel is in a “phase of trial and error” in its coronavirus fight, trying to see whether it can fight its health battle, while taking steps to preserve the economy.

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