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IDF to set up field clinics as Israel's hospitals overflow

As the number of infections continues to rise, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered the Israeli army to prepare to run field hospitals to treat coronavirus patients.
TOPSHOT - Medics work with COVID-19 patients at the isolation ward of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on July 29, 2020. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructed the Israel Defense Forces on Monday to prepare for the opening of field hospitals to treat the COVID-19 outbreak. A statement issued by his ministry read, "Gantz has ordered staff to begin preparations to build an army field hospital that would contain about 200 beds." Gantz reportedly instructed the IDF to begin planning an exit strategy for the nationwide lockdown while simultaneously preparing for the possibility of more severe lockdown restrictions. In such a scenario, the police could require reinforcements to see restrictions are followed.

The IDF will also deploy hundreds of additional soldiers to do contact tracing in the coming days as Israel's coronavirus tzar Ronnie Gamzu has transferred the responsibility for contact tracing to the IDF. Thousands of Home Front Command soldiers were deployed last week to work with local authorities in handling the pandemic. The police enforce the lockdown, while the soldiers conduct tests, run quarantine hotels and distribute food.

Israel currently has 51,503 active infections registered, and more cases are detected every day. The country entered a three-week lockdown on Sept. 18, the eve of the Jewish New Year, to continue throughout the high holidays season. Schools have closed and businesses are operating at reduced capacities.

Gamzu warned Sept. 21 that infection numbers were reaching crisis levels of 20 deaths a day, or 600 per month. Gamzu instructed several hospitals yesterday to open extra specialized wards, some of which might be installed on underground floors. Health Ministry director Hezi Levi wrote to hospital chiefs Monday morning that in the next 10 days, the country is likely to see up to 200 to 300 new coronavirus patients in serious condition. "I ask you all, without exception, to treat this situation as an emergency for the health system, and as such I expect the management staff of all the hospitals and geriatric institutions to all join the national effort to deal with the expected burden."

The warnings from Gamzu and Levi and Gantz' field hospitals came on a backdrop of reports that hospitals are flooding with COVID-19 cases. Assuta hospital in Ashdod and Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospitals both announced that they can no longer accept new coronavirus patients due to overload. A spokesperson for Assuta said that the hospital "is at maximum occupancy," adding, "The situation is clear and the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom [Israel’s Red Cross] are aware. Verified patients who arrive at the hospital will be transferred to another facility.” Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem, Hadassah Mount Scopus, Netanya’s Laniado hospital and Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center are all working at full capacity and beyond.

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