Israel's new coronavirus czar a lockdown hawk

Nachman Ash  / Photo: Tamar Matsafi, Globes

Nachman Ash has been critical of Israel's slowness in imposing a second lockdown, saying 'lockdown skeptics distort the science'.

Within the next few days, Nachman Ash, a former chief medical officer of the IDF and head of the medicine division of health fund Maccabi Health Services, will take over as coronavirus project coordinator from Ronni Gamzu. While Gamzu returns to running Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital and leaves behind the decision making arena and the late-night cabinet meetings, his replacement in the job will formulate his own approach to dealing with the continuing coronavirus crisis. At this stage, it is not clear what authority he will have, and whether, like Gamzu, he too will serve as an external consultant with no powers of his own.

Ash's approach to the coronavirus pandemic is apparently different from that of Gamzu. Whereas Gamzu tried to keep the economy as open as possible and to put of the imposition of a lockdown until the hospitals raised the red flag, Ash supported a lockdown at an earlier stage. On his Twitter account in the past few months he has repeatedly said that there is proof that lockdown works, and claimed that "'lockdown skeptics' are distorting the science.' In an interview with Radio 103 FM in August, Ash was adamant that "the delay in making decisions is only making the situation worse," and said that "the people heading the fight against the coronavirus must present a united front to the public, which knows no peace of mind."

Ash supported Gamzu's traffic light plan of different rules for different areas depending on the local infection statistics, and said that unless it was implemented, a lockdown was unavoidable. At the end of August, despite the steep rise in the number of tests and the progress on the tracing system, Ash said, "We are not doing enough, we are not acting fast, and there is no sense of an emergency. The feeling is as though we are managing with this."

Asked whether politics was defeating medicine, Ash said forthrightly: "Certainly, big time. I don't think it's defeating medicine, but it is defeating the campaign against the coronavirus in its various aspects, including the economy."

Unlike Gamzu, who comes from a background of management of a major hospital and who in the past served as director general of the Ministry of Health, Ash has a wealth of experience in medicine but is not familiar with the innards of the Ministry of Health, the internal politics, and the delicate relationship with the politicians. Nevertheless, Ash comes from the field of public health, the first front on which patients are treated, and which is readying to deal with Covid-19 together with seasonal flu.

Ash's appointment comes at a time when the morbidity statistics are falling, perhaps deceptively. Fewer than 1,000 new patients a day have been identified over the past week. The percentage of confirmed cases out of those tested has dropped to below 4%. The decline was more rapid than the experts expected, although the relaxations of the lockdown have slowed the pace of decline and predictably raised the infection coefficient from 0.65 to 0.7.

The first challenge that Ash will have to meet is to influence Israel's plan for exiting lockdown, a plan that has so far not been fully discussed and approved even though steps have begun to reopen the economy.

Many people who know Ash and have worked alongside him say that his outstanding characteristic is his pleasant demeanor. Dr. Hagai Levine, an associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, said, "Ash is a professional, a leader, who initiates, plans, and executes. He led the campaign against the flu pandemic of 2010, demonstrating an impressive ability to translate the recommendations of the epidemiologists and the public health doctors into optimum implementation and to harness the decision makers at all levels."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on October 28, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Nachman Ash  / Photo: Tamar Matsafi, Globes
Nachman Ash / Photo: Tamar Matsafi, Globes
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