Two top generals contract COVID-19 as Omicron sweeps through IDF

Number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the military more than quintuples in a week, as army scrambles to keep up troop levels, fitness despite surge

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli military technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a IDF lab in central Israel, on July 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Israeli military technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a IDF lab in central Israel, on July 15, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Two top generals contracted the coronavirus on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces said, as the number of confirmed cases has skyrocketed in the military over the past week.

More than 5,000 IDF service members were diagnosed with the disease as of Monday, more than five times the number from a week ago.

All of the soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the IDF who tested positive have light symptoms, the military said.

This includes the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Yaniv Asor, and the military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, the military said.

Both generals feel good and plan to continue to maintain their normal schedules as much as possible under the constraints of national and military COVID-19 restrictions, the IDF said.

After averaging a few hundred confirmed cases over the course of several weeks, recent days have seen the numbers skyrocket, from 990 last Monday, to 1,778 last Thursday, 3,160 on Sunday, and 5,187 on Monday, the IDF said.

Then-Col. Ghassan Alian during a patrol in July 2013 in Jenin. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

In addition, 6,231 service members were in home quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person as of Sunday, according to the military.

In light of this growing outbreak within the IDF, the military has rolled out a number of initiatives — some of them used in previous waves, some of them new — to combat the spread of the disease.

Beginning last Friday, the IDF returned to the pod system it used in previous waves, which is designed to ensure an outfit can function even if a soldier within it contracts the coronavirus. Under this model, units were divided into separate groups, theoretically with no direct physical contact between them, to decrease the likelihood that one infected soldier can spread the disease to an entire unit.

This restriction was put into force within companies for ground troops, on ships for the navy, in departments for Military Intelligence and for squadrons in the air force, the IDF said.

The military was also reportedly considering shortening the length of time that soldiers who test positive for the coronavirus need to remain in quarantine out of concern that the Omicron variant may spread so quickly that within a few weeks there may be no unit within the IDF that is not affected by the outbreak.

According to the Maariv daily, which first reported on the proposed policy, soldiers who test positive but do not have symptoms would be able to return within just a few days, in place of the current policy in which a quarantine of at least 10 days is required, in most cases.

Such a move would require approval from the Health Ministry, which has yet to sign off on it.

According to Maariv, the military was also considering offering fourth vaccine shots to all service members, regardless of age, in an effort to prevent serious illness within the IDF. Currently only people 60 years old and above or with significant health issues are eligible for a fourth vaccine dose.

Recent days have seen record-high coronavirus diagnoses in Israel, with 21,501 new cases recorded on Sunday.

At the same time, the number of serious cases stood at 222, and the death toll rose by 10 to 8,269.

Officials have said that Israel is dealing with both the faster-spreading Omicron and more dangerous Delta strains of the virus, expressing fears that the health system could get overwhelmed with a rise in flu cases taking up room in hospitals as well.

The government has urged the public to vaccinate and shots are available to all those aged five or above.

Of Israel’s 9.5 million population, over 6.6 million have had at least one vaccine dose, Monday’s Health Ministry figures showed. Of those, nearly 6 million have also had a second shot and 4.3 million have gotten a booster as well.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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