Photo Credit:
Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva

The Health Ministry has ordered Israel’s public hospitals to prepare their facilities and staff to receive patients with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

Each hospital has been ordered to prepare wards to accommodate coronavirus patients.


The order, issued Monday, was implemented Tuesday at Be’er Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center, according to Dr. Yuval Rabinovich, a physician who serves as medical director at the Leumit health center (kupat holim) in the northern Negev city of Arad.

Speaking exclusively with on Tuesday evening, Rabinovich said Israel is not yet facing a coronavirus epidemic. Although there are many people in home quarantine in Israel, he said, “these are people who were just in the wrong time and place… not confirmed cases; probably about 20,000 nationwide.”

At present there are 12 confirmed cases of the virus in Israel. All are being treated in Sheba Medical Center, with rigorous measures being taken to contain, as much as possible, any possible outbreak.

Rabinovich said he is in agreement with the recent government recommendation that Israelis not travel abroad for the time being.

“I suggest people to avoid traveling if it is not really necessary,” he said. “I was asked yesterday about a patient who is travelling to Spain next month. I told her that if she can get a refund, to do it immediately. If not, consult again next month.”

Likewise, there is no need for the rush to buy masks, Rabinovich said. “Do not use masks unless you are sick. For healthy people they are probably useless.

“We are not sick,” he underlined; “We have identified carriers, and can still track the path of infection for every case,” he said. That’s good news.

But: “If a community spread starts, it’s a game changer,” he added.

It is precisely “community spread” that has sent the virus into overdrive in places like South Korea, Italy, Iran and now, the United States. Oddly though, that is not what happened in China.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebeyesus, the epidemic in China is finally coming under control; since Monday, China reported 129 confirmed cases, the lowest number of cases since Jan. 20. However, outside China 1,848 cases were reported in 48 countries, with 80 percent of those cases coming from only three countries — South Korea, Iran and Italy. Twelve new countries reported their first cases; there are now 21 countries with one case, Tedros said.

“There is now a total of 90,893 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3,110 deaths,” Tedros said.

“The actions these newly-affected countries take today will be the difference between a handful of cases and a larger cluster. We understand that people are afraid and uncertain. Fear is a natural human response to any threat, especially when it’s a threat we don’t completely understand. But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus, and the disease it causes, more and more.

“This virus is not SARS, it’s not MERS, and it’s not influenza. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics, Tedros said. Both COVID-19 and influenza cause respiratory disease and spread the same way, via small droplets of fluid from the nose and mouth of someone who is sick.

“However, there are some important differences between COVID-19 and influenza.

“First, COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza, from the data we have so far. With influenza, people who are infected but not yet sick are major drivers of transmission, which does not appear to be the case for COVID-19.

“The second major difference is that COVID-19 causes more severe disease than seasonal influenza. “While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.

Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.

(Ed. note: The death rate from influenza in Israel is about 0.005 percent.)

“Third, we have vaccines and therapeutics for seasonal flu, but at the moment there is no vaccine and no specific treatment for COVID-19. However, clinical trials of therapeutics are now being done, and more than 20 vaccines are in development.

“And fourth, we don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu – it’s just not possible. But it is possible for COVID-19. We don’t do contact tracing for seasonal flu, but countries should do it for COVID-19, because it will prevent infections and save lives. Containment is possible.”


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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.