Israel's tech industry rallies to virus war effort

Isolation ward in Sheba medical center  / Photo: Shaul Golan

Leading figures from the industry have set up a war room, and are importing medical equipment for hospitals.

Yasmin Yablonko A war room manned by Israeli technology industry volunteers has been operating in recent days, raising money and buying and importing medical equipment for hospitals in Israel in order to help them cope with the burden of the coronavirus epidemic.

A core of volunteers is coordinating this activity, among them Lemonade cofounder and COO Shai Wininger and Mellanox founder and CEO Eyal Waldman, who is handling purchasing and importing. There is also a larger group of volunteers from various companies, among them Omer Perchik from startup Any.do and Guy Globerman from Israel 2050. The group has already raised substantial sums, which it is using to buy medical equipment and import it to Israel, but it has yet to disclose details about its fundraising.

"It is wonderful to see the spontaneous and broad enlistment in this effort here: Mellanox, which has been dealing with the matter for a long time, and investing many resources, including air shipping of equipment; companies such as El Al and Israir, which are contributing cargo flights; and other entrepreneurs helping in fundraising and operations," Wininger says. He explains that the war room is operating in three main areas: fundraising, learning about hospitals' needs, and purchasing equipment and bringing it to Israel. Activity currently focuses on perishable equipment, such as masks, rather than respirators.

"We have to stock up and hope for all of us that we won't need it. Anyone who tried to import masks and protective equipment from China and other places has certainly seen that it's impossible. The health system is still acting as if we were at peace, but this is war, and in war, you have to move fast, be able to improvise, and be willing to sacrifice tactics for strategy. $0.10 more per mask isn't really important now. We're in direct contact with all of the hospital managers, but without a substantial budget, we won't be able to continue this activity for long, and Israel will be left without equipment at the peak of the epidemic," Wininger adds.

"Our goal is to help, and obviously not to attack the system, which is working well, but at its own pace. Everyone is doing their absolute best, but a government system is sometimes too awkward and political to get quick results in a state of uncertainty. The way the Ministry of Health and the various procurement organizations are used to working, it's very hard to compete with other countries, which are sending people out with suitcases full of cash. You can't compete with this with current plus 90 days and a pile of forms," Wininger says.

Developing a platform for predicting the spread of the epidemic

The enlistment of the technology industry to help in the coronavirus crisis is being stepped up. In recent weeks, projects of major technology companies for development of government platforms designed to predict the spread of the pandemic and monitor its symptoms were announced. In addition, an international interactive emergency conference named Corona Wake Up Call initiated by Jerusalem Venture Partners founder and chairman Erel Margalit was held last week, with participation by representatives from Europe and the US.

Participants in the conference included Cisco Systems Israel general manager Oren Sagi, Israel Innovation Authority chairman Dr. Ami Appelbaum, the head of the Italian government' innovation agency, New York City Economic Development Corporation chair Lindsay Clinton, Italian Minister for Technological Innovation Paola Pisano, the chairman and owner of Italy's largest chain of hospitals, New York City Economic Development Corporation CEO James Patchett, Dr. Eran Zahavy from Israel Institute of Biological Research, and Prof. Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 30, 2020

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

Isolation ward in Sheba medical center  / Photo: Shaul Golan
Isolation ward in Sheba medical center / Photo: Shaul Golan
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