As the number of seriously ill coronavirus patients reaches a record high, two of Israel’s largest hospitals are reopening their underground wartime medical wards as special coronavirus facilities.
The two hospitals are Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and Beilinson Hospital in the central city of Petah Tikva.
At Rambam, the hospital’s current 70-bed coronavirus facility already hosts 65 patients, 10 of them connected to a ventilator, one connected to an ECMO machine, 26 categorized in serious condition and 13 in moderate condition, according to the Ynet news site.
The ward will be transferred to the reopened underground facility over the next two weeks, officials say. The underground facility will open with 110 beds at first, but will be expandable up to 770 beds, with 170 of them connected to ventilators.
The hospital says it hopes to have the transfer completed by the Yom Kippur holiday, which begins September 27. Rambam’s coronavirus crews have already trained in the new facility in recent weeks “to learn how to function in a different space from the departments they are used to,” the hospital said in a statement Thursday.
The underground facility was built to serve as a rocket-proof hospital after Haifa was bombarded with rockets from Lebanon during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
It’s a similar story at Beilinson, which opened its underground facility, retooled for coronavirus patients, on Wednesday. It contains 206 beds, 200 of them with ventilators — and will already be receiving 40 patients on Friday from hospitals in the north whose coronavirus wards are overflowing.
The Beilinson facility was built in just two months by the Defense Ministry’s Engineering and Construction Department.
Israel is poised to enter a sweeping, open-ended nationwide closure ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which officials have said will last at least three weeks but indicated it could last longer if the soaring virus rates aren’t brought down.
Israel has seen virus cases surge in recent weeks, giving it one of the highest infection rates per capita in the world. On Tuesday, it hit an all-time high of around 5,500, but on Wednesday dropped back down to 4,546 new cases, according to initial Health Ministry data released Thursday.
The figure is still far higher than the 1,000 daily cases the Health Ministry is aiming for before it will consider lifting some of the lockdown measures, which will see movement restricted, leisure sites closed, and the education system shuttered, among other limitations.
Authorities also lowered the death toll by two, to 1,163, without offering an explanation.
Over 1,200 people are hospitalized with the virus, and a record 579 patients were listed in serious condition, according to Health Ministry figures on Thursday.
Since the start of the pandemic 172,322 people in Israel have been found to be infected with the coronavirus, or nearly 2 percent of the population.