Hospital heads say wards overflowing, staff collapsing, full lockdown inevitable
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As curfews start, hospital chiefs say they're inadequate

Hospital heads say wards overflowing, staff collapsing, full lockdown inevitable

While government looks for limited measures amid growing resistance to new closures, Health Ministry fears upcoming holiday season could cause spike in infections

People walk past closed stores in the empty Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, during a COVID-19 lockdown on March 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
People walk past closed stores in the empty Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem, during a COVID-19 lockdown on March 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel will not be able to avoid a general lockdown for the coming holiday period, the heads of Israel’s largest hospitals reportedly told Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday.

The comments came as the government imposed a first-of-its-kind curfew beginning Tuesday evening in 40 municipalities that showed very high rates of coronavirus infection. Infection figures hit new highs on Tuesday with the Health Ministry’s announcement that 3,446 new coronavirus cases were confirmed over the 24 hours — the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic, shattering a previous record set last week.

In a Zoom conference call with Edelstein, the government’s coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu and other officials, the hospital chiefs said their crews were “collapsing” under the strain of rising numbers of sick, according to quotes from the closed meeting reported by Channel 12.

“There’s no alternative to a lockdown in two-three weeks,” one unnamed hospital director said.

Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel’s largest, has begun sending coronavirus patients to other hospitals after its special wards overflowed, the officials heard.

Staff at the coronavirus ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Gamzu has convened regular video-conference meetings between top Health Ministry officials and the hospital directors, a forum he has dubbed the “expert cabinet,” to streamline communication between hospitals and policymakers.

The government has faced a growing backlash, especially in Haredi communities, against plans for significant closures that would further devastate an already suffering economy.

That resistance is expected to grow as the Jewish new-year holidays come around beginning September 18, which are traditionally times when families gather together for festive meals.

Coronavirus chief planner Gamzu is reportedly urging the government to stiffen measures ahead of the holidays to ensure that large gathering don’t cause a spike in infection rates just as Israel heads into the winter flu season.

The partial measures being considered as alternatives to a general lockdown include closing major roads, schools, and certain kinds of high-trafficked businesses like restaurants.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu addresses Knesset Constitution Committee, September 6, 2020 (Screen grab)

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto said at the Tuesday briefing that Israelis should in any case be told to spend the holidays only with their nuclear families. “You can add here or there, but the bare minimum, no more than 20 people around the table,” he was quoted as saying on Channel 12.

The hardest-hit communities that make up the list of 40 “red” municipalities under curfew are also among Israel’s poorest. Most have populations that are majority Haredi or majority Arab, where levels of trust in the government’s decision-making has taken a hit in recent weeks.

The curfew that went into effect Tuesday in the 40 worst-hit municipalities was itself a compromise measure after prominent Haredi mayors wrote an angry letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week saying they would not cooperate with a complete lockdown of their towns, and accusing the PM of treating them like “disease vectors” and ignoring their proposals for more limited measures.

The new rules, which have closed schools and many businesses, will last for a week before being reconsidered by the cabinet.

The rules stipulate that residents must keep within 500 meters of their homes and non-essential businesses will be closed. Schools will be closed at all times, except for special needs programs.

Police seen at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as Israel began enforcing a nightly curfew, September 8, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During the curfew, businesses will not be allowed to open apart from those designated as essential, which are food stores (not including restaurants), pharmacies, opticians’ shops, shops whose main business is selling hygiene products, and businesses that repair phones and computers.

According to Health Ministry data, the total number of coronavirus cases hit 137,565 on Tuesday evening, of which 107,003 have recovered.

Of the 29,522 active cases, 454 are in serious condition, 143 of them on ventilators. Another 168 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. Overall, 936 people are hospitalized with the disease. The death toll rose to 1,040 with 10 deaths since midnight.

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