Israeli security services and government ministries acquired 27 ventilators and a hoard of other medical equipment needed in the fight against the coronavirus on Monday, a Health Ministry spokesperson said.
According to the official, the supply operation was carried out by the Mossad intelligence service, Defense Ministry, Health Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office, and Israel Defense Forces.
Hebrew media on Monday reported that the Mossad intelligence service, which has been tasked with securing medical equipment from abroad from unspecified countries amid worldwide shortages, helped obtained 25,000 N95 respiratory masks, 20,000 virus test kits, 10 million surgical masks, and 700 overalls for ambulance workers who usually carry out the initial testing for the virus.
At least another 160 ventilators will be brought to Israel by Wednesday, the reports said, without giving details on where the equipment was coming from.
The N95 respiratory masks offer better protection against the virus than a standard surgical mask and are particularly sought after by medical staff in hospitals. Dozens of medical workers have caught COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as they treat patients who were infected.
It was the third such shipment by the Mossad over the past few weeks, aimed at addressing shortages in Israel.
There have been growing concerns there may not be enough ventilators to treat all of the most seriously ill, leaving doctors with life and death decisions on whom to keep alive.
The Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus, which is overseeing government efforts to curb the outbreak in Israel, is to meet later in the day to discuss the equipment shortages, the Walla news site reported.
As of Monday morning there were 4,347 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Israel. Fifteen people have died of the disease, 80 are in serious condition, according to Health Ministry figures.
A top Health Ministry official reportedly warned Sunday that Israel needed to prepare for a situation in which 5,000 people infected with the virus needed ventilators.
“This is a difficult scenario, but we can endure it,” Dr. Vered Ezra, head of medical management at the ministry, was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news in a briefing.
According to a report prepared last week for the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus, there are at most 1,437 ventilators in the country still available to treat patients. The Health Ministry disputed that figure, saying there were 2,864 available ventilators.
Last week the Mossad brought 400,000 coronavirus test kits to Israel from an undisclosed foreign location, the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time. The shipment came a week after the agency had obtained 100,000 testing kits.
The PMO, which is responsible for the Mossad, said the intelligence service had imported the chemical reagents needed to perform approximately 400,000 tests. The swabs needed to carry out the task are being sourced both internally and from a number of foreign countries.
The PMO refused to comment further on the matter, specifically on the country or countries that sold it the testing components, leading many to assume that it was a country that does not have strong or formal ties with Israel.
Israel has significantly stepped up its testing, performing several thousand each day, with the goal of increasing that level further.
The Mossad’s first operation to bring the chemical reagents needed for 100,000 coronavirus tests sparked a minor controversy after Health Ministry officials lamented that what they’d actually needed were more swabs. After a small flurry of accusations and reversals, the ministry released a statement affirming that the test kits were “important” and “necessary” in the fight against the disease.
Israelis were ordered starting last Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they were taking part in a small number of approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine, going to work, or going a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from their home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) or imprisonment.
The government was set to weigh imposing further restrictions which are intended to halt the virus spread.