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Health officials predict thousands of seriously ill COVID patients within month

Bennett reportedly agrees to expand hospital capacity after being presented with numbers showing hospitalizations quadrupling by mid-September; funding for plan unclear

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on February 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli hospitals have to prepare for an influx of nearly 5,000 coronavirus patients within weeks, half of whom will need acute care to deal with severe bouts of COVID-19, health officials have warned Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, according to reports Wednesday.

The dire predictions came during a Tuesday meeting between Bennett and senior health experts amid a major influx of new cases, prompting the premier to back a plan to expand hospital capacity, a signal that the government will look to absorb the crush of severe cases head-on rather than attempt to swerve out of its way.

Senior Health Ministry officials and other experts presented Bennett with data forecasting some 4,800 coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization by September 10. The experts expect half of the patients to be seriously ill, putting a major strain on Israel’s health system, according to Hebrew-language media reports on the closed-door meeting.

Israel has seen new case numbers skyrocket in recent weeks from a few dozen a day to over 6,000 on Monday. Another 5,755 were diagnosed on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said Wednesday morning, bringing the number of active cases to 38,942.

Ministry numbers showed 694 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday morning, 400 of whom were listed in serious condition. Sixty-two people were being treated on ventilators.

The predictions from the health experts were based on a doubling of the number of hospitalizations and serious illnesses every 10 days.

Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz agreed to pump money into the health system to bring in 100 more doctors, 500 nurses and 200 paramedical and support staff every 10 days to keep up with growing demand, according to a summary of the meeting drafted by the Prime Minister’s Office and published by the Ynet news site.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, center, watches a resident of the Migdal Nofim retirement home in Jerusalem be tested for the coronavirus on July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Some 3,000 students will also be hired and paramedics and military medics will be brought in to carry out home visits and assist in home treatment for coronavirus patients.

Special summer camps and afterschool care will be provided for the children of health workers to free up their time.

The plan will also increase the capabilities of the geriatric care system and boost the ability of HMOs to treat patients at home in order to ease the load on hospitals.

During the third wave of the virus, which crested in January with some 10,000 new daily cases, health officials warned that the health system would be unable to cope if the number of seriously ill patients rose above 800. At the pandemic’s peak, nearly 1,200 patients were listed in serious condition, and some 50 people died each day.

Hospital internal ward heads told Health Ministry Director Nachman Ash Wednesday that they were already dealing with “heavy crowding,” and feared beds in their units would be moved to coronavirus wards, worsening the pressure, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

A health care worker tests Israelis for coronavirus at a drive-through complex in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The proposal is estimated to cost between NIS 1.5 billion to NIS 2 billion ($465 million to $620 million), Channel 12 reported. Bennett was to meet later Wednesday with the heads of the country’s hospitals to present them with the plan, Ynet reported.

While the source of the money has yet to be determined, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman has promised on numerous occasions to fund hospitals in order to increase capacity and deal with the rising case numbers.

Liberman, who has likened COVID-19 to the flu, and other government officials see expanding the ability of the health system to deal with thousands more patients as key to pursuing its policy of avoiding lockdowns or strict restrictions that could harm the economy, seeking to “live with” the virus and vaccinate where possible rather than attempt to eradicate it from public life.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked came under fire Tuesday after appearing to brush aside the pandemic’s human toll while defending the government’s stance, telling Channel 13 news that “we have to to know how to accept severe cases and also to accept deaths, because this is a pandemic and in a pandemic people die.”

Ministers were to convene later Wednesday to discuss broadening the scope of the so-called Green Pass system to apply to most events and leisure activities. Under the system, Israelis seeking to enter most venues aside from stores will have to show proof they are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or tested negative for the virus in the past 72 hours.

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