One month after being formed, the Israel Defense Forces’ Coronavirus Command began its second stage of operations on Tuesday, taking over epidemiological tracking efforts nationwide.
The development comes one day after the cabinet approved a call by the government’s coronavirus project coordinator, Professor Ronni Gamzu, to keep schools closed in “red cities”—areas where testing has found the highest concentration of infections.
According to the “traffic light” model drawn up by Gamzu, Health Ministry officials and the IDF’s Home Front Command, all cities are divided into red, orange, yellow and green categories, with different restrictions applied to each city in light of its infection rate and situation.
The differential model, designed to flatten the curve without wrecking the national economy, is largely enabled by real-time management of data by the Home Front Command’s digital networks, in cooperation with health officials.
The Home Front Command’s control center, known as the Alon Headquarters, operates out of its base in Ramla in central Israel.
It was established on Aug. 11 on the instructions of Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, in cooperation with Gamzu and Health Ministry representatives.
The IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, and Home Front Command chief, Maj. Gen. Uri Gordin, led the establishment of the Alon Headquarters. Today, it has some 2,100 officers, soldiers and civilians serving in it.
From Tuesday onwards, the headquarters began managing epidemiolocal tests, calling up 300 conscripted and reserve soldiers for that task. They will join some 700 epidemiological investigators. In the coming weeks, additional investigators from local authorities will come under the jurisdiction of the Alon Headquarters.
Since being established last month, the headquarters relocated 25,000 people infected with coronavirus to “corona hotels,” as well as a further 16,000 people who require isolation, according to a statement by Gantz’s office.
It also transferred nearly 100,000 samples to labs and set up 13 fixed testing sites around the country.
The Alon Headquarters arranged for 4,500 tests in homes of people who cannot head out for testing. It has deployed representatives in cities nationwide and stepped up information campaigns in multiple languages, while also increasing the number of call-center operators in the “red cities.”
‘An effort to disrupt the infection chain’
During a visit to the headquarters on Tuesday, Defense Minister Gantz said, “I’m glad that the education system has mostly opened its doors after widespread preparations.”
Referring to the decision to keep schools in red cities closed, he said “we also had to take some difficult decisions regarding local councils, and I hope that we can quickly return them to a regular learning routine.”
Gantz added that only “through hard work, with all of the councils, together with Gamzu, and in coordination with the Health Ministry and other government ministries, will we be able to disrupt the infection chain and support the population against challenges that still await us.”
He said “what you are seeing here is an effort to disrupt the infection chain. Sometimes, citizens ask, ‘What can we do? How do we decrease the scope of infection?’ Disrupting the infection chain is the way to decrease it. The investigations here help us track the people, the contacts, to send samples, conduct more investigations and isolate. That’s how the chain is disrupted.”
Collaborations between the defense establishment and defense industries, coupled with the medical world, have taken many forms since the pandemic has struck.
In April, the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa began using a management and control system, developed by Israel’s Elbit Systems defense company, called EX-TEAMS. The system is derived from military command and control technology, and it turns cell phones into military communications devices.
It allows medical units to speak to entire teams; displays their real-time locations and their zones of operation; visually categorizes hospital beds according to severity; and uses artificial intelligence to automatically manage workloads, identifying teams that are inactive and allocating them to where they are needed most.
In April, the Defense Ministry announced that its National Emergency Team, together with Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit, have developed the prototypes to measure the vital signs of patients, including pulse, respiratory rate and temperature, and pick out patterns that indicate a likely coronavirus infection.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems deployed robotic assistance tools to hospitals, giving them autonomous robots that come into contact with coronavirus patients in place of nurses, and conducting tasks such as food distribution and logistics. Rafael also built systems that enable hospitals to remotely transmit medical readings of patients back to nurses and doctors.
In April, Israel Aerospace Industries Systems Missiles Space group opened a new production line to produce hospital ventilators, to produce a ventilator made by Ra’anana-based medical company, Inovytec. JN