Politicians thwart Gamzu as Covid-19 cases rise sharply

Ronni Gamzu

30 days after becoming Israel's virus elimination campaign head, Prof. Rony Gamzu is struggling to implement his plans.

Israel's coronavirus infection rate is back on the rise. Nearly 2,000 new Covid-19 cases were found on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health reports, the highest number this month. There are 430 people seriously ill including 118 on ventilators and 867 people have died. Since the start of the pandemic, 107,341 Israelis have tested positive for the virus, of whom 85,893 have recovered.

It is 30 days since the appointment of Prof. Ronni Gamzu as the head of the Ministry of Health's campaign to eliminate the virus and he is not making very much headway. He is being attacked on all sides by politicians. Last Thursday he presented the Covid-19 cabinet with his "traffic light" proposal in which every local authority would be given a color according to its infection rate with restrictions imposed on red locations. But his ideas were fiercely attacked by haredi ultra-orthodox MKs and the meeting broke up without any agreements.

Gamzu's opponents insist that his plan would involve discrimination against haredi communities. He further provoked the anger of the haredi community by opposing the annual mass pilgrimage to Uman in the Ukraine to the grave of Rebbe Nachman, which is usually attended by 15,000-20,000 Israelis each year. Minister of Construction and Housing Yaakov Litzman called on Gamzu to resign for claiming that this could cause a further spread of the disease. Likud MK Miki Zohar backed Litzman and said, "He must understand that the flights to Uman will happen and he should prepare for this instead of sending letters to the Ukraine in opposition to the prime minister's point of view."

In any event the flights won't happen after the Ukrainian government announced today that it is closing its borders to all foreign tourists during September due to a virus spike. There was also comfort for Gamzu in that Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein did support him. Edelstein said, "National responsibility dictates that this year is not the year to fly to Uman."

Gamzu's appointment was meant to restore public confidence in the government's ability to quell the Covid-19 pandemic but it has simply highlighted the political sectarian rather than professional way that the matter is being handled.

Meanwhile the High Holydays are approaching next month and there are major fears that synagogue services and family parties will result in a further acceleration of the disease's spread.

Israel's Arab community is still paying the price for lack of caution during the Feast of the Sacrifice earlier this month when large parties escalated infection rates. Ayman Saif, who is in charge of combatting the coronavirus in the Arab community for the Ministry of Health, estimates that if only 5% of infections in the first wave in Israel were Arabs, today it is 30%. With wedding halls closed, large weddings have taken place in the Arab community throughout the summer with parties in the streets involving hundreds and even thousands of people.

Prof. Doron Gazit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's virus monitoring team predicts that by early September the number of people seriously ill with Covid-19 could rise from 430 currently to as high as 600. Prof. Gazit nevertheless feels that much can be done without imposing another closure to reduce the spread of the disease. These include restricting gatherings in enclosed spaces, and a more rigorous investigation, monitoring and mapping of where infections are being picked up in order to disrupt and contain the infection chain.

But ultimately the government must take action. Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, chairman of the Public Health School at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and a member of Gamzu's professional team said, "We ask that the politicians let Gamzu do his job. It's the time to let the expertis in public health get to work with the various parts of the population for the benefit of public health. The traffic light plan built so wisely by Prof. Rony Gamzu must finally be approved. The politicians must not get in the way and on the contrary must assist.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 26, 2020 © Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

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