Israel’s hospitals are on the edge of the abyss

It’s obvious that a lockdown must be declared immediately. There’s no other option but to reboot the system so that we don't lose control and completely exhaust our medical personnel.

Passengers aboard the Jerusalem light rail on April 21, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Passengers aboard the Jerusalem light rail on April 21, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Dr. Michael Halbertal
Dr. Michael Halbertal

The question of whether hospitals are at full capacity is a matter of definition. I don’t like using terms such as “collapse” or “full capacity”; if I get an order to administer another 100 patients, we will find the solution. Rambam Medical Center currently operates three coronavirus wards, which are almost completely full. We need to understand: When the morbidity rate rises and hospitals receive more coronavirus patients, it comes at the expense of existing patients in other wards.

In any case, there’s no distribution of burden between hospitals in Israel. The hospitals in the north are contending with a greater patient load than those in the center. We need to strike a distribution balance between the various hospitals across the country. In the first wave of the pandemic, the infections were mostly concentrated in Jerusalem and the center. Now, in the midst of the second wave, most of the infections are in the north and Jerusalem. At Rambam, for example, most of the beds are occupied, and if the infection rate continues to rise we will have to transfer patients to other hospitals.

Additionally, medical teams are exhausted and are approaching their limit, which is making matters worse. Even if we receive more doctors, nurses and technicians, it won’t help because if the current trajectory doesn’t change we will lose control and won’t be able to properly treat those who don’t have coronavirus. The facts speak for themselves, and we are standing on the edge of the abyss.

The obvious conclusion is that a countrywide lockdown must be declared immediately. There’s no other option but to reboot the system so that we don’t lose control and don’t completely exhaust our medical personnel. National Coronavirus Project coordinator professor Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan is a fine one, but it can only be implemented after a general quarantine to curb and sever the chain of infection. It still isn’t too late. It all depends on us, the citizens of the country. If we can follow the safety guidelines, wear masks, wash our hands, maintain social distancing and avoid large gatherings—we can revert to the levels we saw after the first nationwide lockdown when the morbidity rate was very low.

We were not prepared for the second wave.

The reason for the current numbers, among other factors, is that schools opened. We see that tens of thousands of students and teachers have gotten sick or were forced to sequester. It’s hard to argue with cold hard numbers and facts. We were not prepared for the second wave. Although children almost never get sick with the coronavirus, they are a very significant vector in the chain of infection.

As for the upcoming High Holidays, we must remember that one of the most important values in Judaism is saving lives, and we need to understand that there’s no choice but to enter another lockdown for a set period of time. Our saving grace is the good health-care system in Israel, but we still must say loudly and clearly: Every system has its limits. Control of the situation is in our hands: the people.

I call on all citizens of the country to avoid large gatherings, weddings and parties, and to always wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. This is the only way, through solidarity, to sever the chain of infection.

Afterward, we can transition to an exit strategy. An organized plan to exit the lockdown gradually and in a measured fashion is vital. Our solidarity and mutual guarantee is also critical and will help us protect our grandparents, children and parents. The first wave was characterized by elderly patients, but in the second wave, we’re mostly seeing younger patients. Stopping the pandemic is up to us and we can rise to the challenge, but if we keep looking for solutions where they don’t exist, the road to calamity will be exceedingly short.

Dr. Michael Halbertal is the director general of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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