RONI GAMZU

Director-General of Israel's Health Ministry Prof. Roni Gamzu attends a Finance committee meeting in the Israeli parliament regarding review of a report on the progress of negotiations toward a solution of the financial crisis at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. April 23, 2014. 

Israel’s newly appointed coronavirus project coordinator, professor Ronni Gamzu, on Tuesday presented his plan to halt the spread of COVID-19.

In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Gamzu, who was tasked just days ago with overseeing the country’s response to the pandemic, stressed the urgency of the matter.

“We must understand: In the hospitals, a crisis is beginning. Among the populace, a crisis is beginning,” he said, adding, “Infections are rising and the disease continues to advance, despite all the efforts that have been made.”

The plan, called “Magen Israel” or “Shield of Israel,” consists of three main components: transferring responsibility for contact-tracing and breaking the virus’s transmission chains from the Health Ministry to the Israel Defense Forces, a “new contract” between the country’s government and citizens and improving the manner in which information about the pandemic is conveyed to the public.

The challenge with regard to disrupting chains of infection is primarily operational, not medical, said Gamzu, and that the country’s health system was not equipped to deal with it.

“Sorry, health system, sorry, Health Ministry, but this isn’t ours,” said Gamzu, a former ministry director-general. “This is medicine, it’s operational and it’s engineering,” and the Israel Defense Forces is the body most suited to deal with it, he said.

The military, said Gamzu, “has the capabilities, the technology and the tools, and we can do it. The IDF will take over, and it will take time but we will disrupt the transmission chains.”

This, he said, was “the heart of stopping the pandemic, and not just now but in the longer term.”

Another main pillar of the plan laid out by Gamzu was restoring the public’s trust in the government to manage the crisis, which he said had been eroded. To this end, he presented what he termed a “new contract” between the government and the public.

On the government’s end, Gamzu vowed to reduce restrictions on the public to a minimum and increase the transparency of the decision-making process.

“We will no longer allow illogical restrictions, we will reduce the number of restrictions as much as possible, and in the future, everything will be done with a high degree of professionalism,” he said. “I will not allow illogical restrictions that damage the country’s economy.”

In exchange, Gamzu called for increased public discipline and adherence to Health Ministry directives, and in particular wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. He presented data showing that these were highly effective in reducing the infection rate.

Netanyahu expressed the government’s full support for Gamzu’s plan at the press conference, saying, “If one had to summarize in one word what is inherent in, and what stands at the foundation of this plan, the word is ‘together.'”

“We are working together and we are backing him together. It is no coincidence that Benny Gantz is here. He will speak right after me and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will speak after him. I expect all Cabinet ministers to back this plan. I expect the citizens of Israel, all of them, without exception, to cooperate with it. Together we will defeat the coronavirus,” said Netanyahu.

The prime minister said that while actions were being taken on many fronts to combat the pandemic, the health front was key.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel stood at 66,805 on Wednesday, with 490 people having died of the disease, including four since midnight, according to Health Ministry data.

There were 2,093 new cases recorded since Tuesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 33,618, 322 of them listed as serious, according to the ministry. JN

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