IDF takes emergency steps to protect soldiers, civilians from virus


The defense establishment’s role is twofold: to ensure that the disease does not harm its readiness and to assist civilian systems to cope with the pandemic.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, Israel’s Defense Ministry and the IDF are taking unprecedented steps to protect soldiers from infection and ensure readiness, as well as assisting infected civilians.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett issued a directive on Sunday for security forces to set up community recovery centers for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms in hotels. He ordered security forces to set up four first such recovery centers in the north, south and center of the country, with each one able to host 500 to 1000 mildly ill COVID-19 patients.

The centers will be based in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Negev.

The defense establishment has begun “taking over” existing hotels, ensuring that they are empty and preparing them for the arrival of patients, Bennett stated in a Facebook post.

“Each patient will receive his or her own hotel room with the full attached comforts,” he added.

The hotels will have medical teams on hand to supervise the patients’ recovery and to conduct the necessary tests before their release. The centers are designed to handle some of the estimated 80 percent of coronavirus patients who have light-moderate symptoms, according to Bennett.

“We are working on this full steam ahead, with our objective being to open the first motel in the coming week,” said Bennett. In a press briefing delivered on Sunday, he noted that “it is important to tell the truth: We do not know the exact number of infected patients.”

The defense establishment is taking on an increasing number of missions to assist the civilian sphere, said Bennett. “Israel must preempt corona, that is the battle,” he said. Current actions being taken will only have an impact in about 10 days, he stated.

The defense establishment’s role is twofold: to ensure that the disease does not harm its readiness and to assist civilian systems to cope with the pandemic.

The IDF announced on Sunday that the Home Front Command and Magen David Adom paramedics will jointly staff an operations center that will respond to calls from the public. Some 100 reservists have been called up to staff the center on Sunday morning. The room will take calls from members of the public who are in home isolation and who have developed a fever, cough or breathing difficulties, and will be available by dialing 101. It will be staffed 24 hours a day.

The move came after the Defense Ministry last week acquired 50 million shekels ($13.5 million) worth of medical equipment for the military – the largest logistical procurement initiative since “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014.

“Our responsibility is to look after grandfather and grandmother after they looked after us for all our lives,” said Bennett.

On Friday, Maariv reported that the military is expected to boost assistance to hospitals by providing soldiers who will act as operators in operations centers and by providing extra medical staff from among qualified personnel. The report noted that the IDF allocates officers to every hospital in the country and that the officers are joined by back-up Home Front Command personnel during national emergencies.

“Every person’s conduct has an impact”

On Friday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi described the coronavirus pandemic as a “most complex event that can spread and become complicated. It could have the most severe implications. But its spread is not inevitable. We can have an influence, and we can minimize it.”

“This is an incident in which every person’s conduct has an impact,” he said, before issuing guidelines to soldiers. “Give up now comfort in the present for the future for safety and for security. The IDF has to stay ready and operational. You have big responsibility in fulfilling that mission.”

On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government officials announced the latest measures to battle COVID-19. These include digital surveillance of suspected infected people, the banning of gatherings of 10 or more people in any one place, calls for all people to keep two meters apart and the closure of all event halls, shopping malls, gyms, movie theaters, cafes, restaurants and bars.

Medical officials told the media that it was not possible to separate high-risk group members from the rest of the population, and that society had to act as a single entity to slow down the spread. Kindergartens were also shut down, joining school closures.

The government announced that the private sector will not be shut but would transition to work from home wherever possible. Offices that were able to comply with the two-meter social-distancing principle and not go over the 10-person rule could stay open. The military also announced on Friday that soldiers in combat units had to prepare to stay on closed bases for a minimum of a month as part of measures to ensure IDF readiness and to prevent infection among the ranks.

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