(March 17, 2020 / Israel Hayom) Israel’s military and security forces are reportedly gearing up to step in and assist civilian authorities in managing the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to the Israeli Health Ministry’s latest numbers, there are currently 304 COVID-19 patients in Israel, four of whom are in serious condition. The ministry fears as many as 3,000 cases have yet to be diagnosed. More than 50,000 Israelis are currently under home quarantine as part of drastic measures by the government to stem the spread of the outbreak that has considerably slowed the country’s economy.
While the government has so far refrained from declaring a state of national emergency, under which the Home Front Command will step in and assume the lead in managing the crisis, the corps has been placed on alert.
Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the Israel Defense Forces to call up 2,000 Home Front Command reservists to that end.
GOC Homefront Command Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai has taken on the mantle of public diplomacy efforts regarding the crisis, seeking to provide the anxious Israeli public with as much information as possible in an effort to avoid panic. Home Front Command officials have also been closely liaising with mayors and local council heads nationwide.
Monday saw the Home Front Command and Health Ministry take over four major hotels across the country, which will be converted to house quarantined Israelis who are in need of medical care.
Hotels are naturally equipped to accommodate thousands of people, keeping them in one place and thus minimizing the possibility of spreading the infection while also preventing hospitals from becoming overrun, a defense official explained.
Israel’s largest hotel chain, Dan Hotels, has already begun converting two major locations—Dan Panorama Tel Aviv and Dan Jerusalem—for state use.
The ministry opposes allowing patients who are asymptomatic or are experiencing only a mild case of COVID-19 to self-quarantine at home, fearing they will not properly observe quarantine protocols.
Home Front Command troops are also being trained to conduct tests for the virus, with the aim of setting up “drive-through” testing, as has been done in the United States and some places in Europe. People will arrive in their cars, stop at a testing slot, samples will be taken through the car window by soldiers wearing protective gear, and the people can then continue on their way.
This will allow thousands of additional tests to be carried out daily without burdening medical personnel.
Yadai said on Monday that the state should have designated a “national spokesperson” to communicate information to the public and urged the media to “avoid apocalyptic projections.”
Also on Monday, Acting Israel Police Commissioner Moti Cohen announced that a special task force has been formed to enforce Health Ministry quarantine orders.
The decision was made following government consultations, called after it became clear that a growing number of Israelis were not observing the self-quarantine directives.
The task force will comprise police and Border Police troops, who have so far been training to deal with various scenarios, such as dealing with individuals who violate quarantine, evacuation to hospital, and assisting distressed civilians by distributing food and medicine. The troops have also been instructed on ways of dealing with patients who accost them or try to hinder officers in the line of duty.
The police are also gearing up to deal with any riots or looting incidents, Cohen said.
“We must be prepared for every scenario and every challenge that the coronavirus poses. This is a national emergency, and we must be at the forefront and help protect the safety, security and health of the Israeli public,” he said in a statement.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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