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Over 100 cases in army's 8200 intelligence unit

IDF sees massive jump in COVID-19 cases, nearly tripling in 9 days

Number of servicemembers in quarantine also more than doubles in a week and a half as country is rocked by second wave of the pandemic

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli soldiers wearing protective face masks walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers wearing protective face masks walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem on June 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Over the course of nine days, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Israel Defense Forces has nearly tripled, from 203 on July 4 to 568 on Monday, according to figures released by the military.

This included conscripted soldiers, career officers and non-commissioned officers, and civilian employees of the military. All 568 had light symptoms, the military said.

The number of servicemembers in quarantine has similarly shot up over the past week and a half, from 5,039 on July 4 to 12,130, according to the IDF’s official tally.

More than 2,000 IDF soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the military went into quarantine in the past day, according to the IDF figures.

This was a far greater jump than the military saw during the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, during which the IDF put in place harsher restrictions on its soldiers and bases than are currently in effect.

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinians during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel’s annexation plans, June 26, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

More than 100 of the cases were recorded among soldiers and commanders serving in the intelligence unit 8200, one of the military’s biggest units, Channel 13 reported. The report said hundreds of other soldiers from the unit were in quarantine, that others were operating in separate, small groups known as “capsules,” and that the military was estimating that most of the infections had happened outside army bases.

Currently, soldiers are only encouraged to remain at home as much as possible when they are not stationed on their bases and to avoid large gatherings, though exceptions can be granted by their commanders for family events.

In light of the recent surge, the military is planning to halt all training exercises for reserve battalions, brigades and divisions, and soldiers’ furloughs will be reduced to once every three weeks, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said last week.

In addition, recruits enlisting in the military next month will be asked to go to recruitment centers without their parents in order to prevent large gatherings. Guests will also be barred from military ceremonies.

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi was forced to enter quarantine after it was confirmed that he had been in the vicinity of a coronavirus carrier, the military said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi observes a military exercise in northern Israel on June 23, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“He feels well, is not displaying symptoms, and will be tested shortly,” the Israel Defense Forces said last Thursday.

It was the second time Kohavi was forced to self-isolate since the start of the pandemic. In April he went into isolation after similar exposure, but tested negative and was let out.

Last Saturday, Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan, head of IDF Central Command, was also required to enter quarantine after taking part in an event at which a confirmed coronavirus carrier was present, the military said.

In recent weeks, Israel has seen a large resurgence of the coronavirus after the number of confirmed cases began to drop in May. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak in mid-March, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

As of Monday afternoon, there were over 20,000 active coronavirus cases in the country, according to the Health Ministry. Of them, 160 people were in serious condition, 51 of whom were on ventilators. The death toll stood at 364.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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