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Virus czar: For every confirmed COVID patient, 10 more may have virus

During tour of IDF contact tracing headquarters, Ronni Gamzu urges people to undergo coronavirus tests to help cut chains of infection

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu speaks during a press conference at the military's "Alon" contact tracing headquarters on November 3, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu speaks during a press conference at the military's "Alon" contact tracing headquarters on November 3, 2020. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu said Tuesday he estimates that for every confirmed virus patient there are another 10 people who suspect they may be infected but are not going to get tested.

Gamzu joined Defense Minister Benny Gantz for a tour of the army’s Alon virus contact tracing headquarters, where both men urged the populace to cooperate in the country’s efforts to cut the chains of infection.

“If there were 600 verified [cases] this morning, I estimate there are 10 times as many who do not come to be tested even when they have an inner suspicion,” Gamzu said. “They not only endanger themselves and their families, but the whole disease-reducing operation, and prevent us from lowering the infection coefficient.”

Those who avoid being tested are also preventing the government from further easing a national lockdown to open up businesses and reopen schools for 5-12 grades, Gamzu said.

Gamzu also called on those who are diagnosed with COVID-19 to be honest about whom they have been in contact with.

“If a person doesn’t reveal all their contacts, it is a significant problem,” he said.

From left to right: Outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Home Front Command head Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin at the military’s “Alon” contact tracing headquarters on November 3, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Speaking before Gamzu, Gantz lauded the military’s virus tracing operation, calling it “one of the best virus infection chain severance systems in the world.”

Gantz said that in the short time since the Alon unit has been operational, it has the capacity to probe 4,000 cases a day.

The IDF was first tasked with setting up a contact tracing system in August.

He warned, however, that the system will only really work if the public cooperates.

Gantz said he has asked that local authorities be provided with details of those who return from abroad so they follow up with those who are required to enter quarantine. The defense minister said he also intends to expand the lockdowns on so-called “red cities” that have high infection rates.

“That way we will be able to act in the infection hotspots on the one hand and on the other further open the other places,” he said.

The comments came a day after Gamzu told ministers that testing rates were falling, as many Israelis are unwilling to have samples taken.

In an exchange between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gamzu on Monday during a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, it was noted that a number of localities were not meeting targets for the number of tests to be carried out on any given day.

Speaking Tuesday, Gamzu said the government was weighing “incentivizing” municipalities to perform more tests, but did not offer specifics.

Medical team member takes a swab to test for the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier, the Health Ministry reported an increase in new virus cases on Monday, but the rate of positive test results declined.

The ministry said Tuesday that of the 34,128 test results returned a day earlier, 2.3% were positive to confirm infection with the virus.

The drop came the day after a military task force warned that the positive test rate had been climbing. Health Ministry data had previously shown that the positive test rate had risen from around two percent throughout last week to 2.9% on Saturday and 3.1% on Sunday.

Testing levels were also up, with 34,128 people sampled on Monday. Gamzu has warned that testing levels need to be at least 30,000 per day for officials to have a good overview of the situation.

Israel sharply brought down its daily COVID-19 infection rates from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October with a nationwide lockdown, which it began to gradually ease two weeks ago.

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