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Israel’s Coronavirus Czar Admits Pandemic Remains Untamed

Prof. Ronni Gamzu: I’m doing my best not to call for a lockdown. That would be an economic disaster

As the number of daily deaths and serious cases reach new highs, Israel could be headed for another total lockdown in the coming weeks, the country’s top coronavirus official, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, warned on Tuesday.

The respected former director-general of the Health Ministry and current director of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center/Ichilov Hospital explained that while such a drastic step should be considered a last resort, the persistence in case numbers and infection rates might force the government to make some difficult decisions.

“I’m doing my best not to [call for a lockdown]. That would be an economic disaster,” Gamzu, 54, told The Media Line, adding that the deadline for such a decision would be the successive Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot, set to begin on the evening of September 18.

“We’re trying to contain it in the next four weeks,” he said.

Gamzu would not rule out a scenario in which millions of Israelis are forced to stay home on the most important days of the Jewish calendar. He pointed to the opening of the school year on September 1, and the even earlier opening of religious educational institutions, calling them “worrying points in time” that could lead to spikes in infection.

On Monday, Israel recorded 2,071 new cases, the highest figure in three weeks, with 7% of those undergoing testing being shown as positive for coronavirus. The number of patients in serious condition reached a new high on Monday, at 410.

Gamzu did find a silver lining in the relatively low death rate, claiming it was among the lowest in the world. So far, 698 Israelis have died from the virus.

The so-called coronavirus czar asked the Israeli public to give him just one thing – a little while longer.

“I’ve been in this position for only three or four weeks,” he explained. “These things take time.”

I’ve been in this position for only three or four weeks. These things take time

Named by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in late July to head all operations and decisions regarding the battle against the pandemic, Gamzu entered his role amid widespread public anger over a renewed surge in cases.

On Tuesday, the corona point man criticized the government’s initial response to the health crisis.

“There was a push to go back to normal” that was done “too fast,” he claimed, alluding to the quick reopening of businesses and public gatherings after the first wave of infections died down in May.

“We’re trying a different way this time around,” he noted.

We’re trying a different way this time around

Gamzu detailed his three-point plan, consisting of transferring major responsibilities to the local level, improving the apparatus responsible for severing infection chains (“testing, inquiries, contact tracing, quarantine – it’s not working well and it will take two to three weeks to improve”) and shoring up the public’s faith in him and other officials.

“The people of Israel must trust us,” he stressed. “[Trust] is the most important player in this game.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein addressed the consistently high rate of positive test results.

“That’s a very concerning number,” he said. “All manners of dealing with this pandemic are on the table, and we are considering all options.”

Gamzu explains that his preferred strategy is to implement limited, pinpoint lockdowns on specific towns or neighborhoods with unusually high infection rates.

According to the coronavirus czar, the general population is showing signs of improvement though the more crowded and densely populated towns of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab-Israelis pose a “tougher” challenge.

“We haven’t gotten the job done yet,” he said. “But we’re on our way.”