News Digest — 3/19/20

Mossad Speeds Thousands Of Corona Test Kits To Israel

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was able to deliver 100,000 new coronavirus test kits collected overseas to local labs in an overnight operation Channel 12 News reported Thursday (19th).  In the next few days the Mossad will facilitate the delivery of 4 million additional kits.  Director Yossi Cohen is said to be personally overseeing the operation.

The Health Ministry reported Thursday (19th) that 529 people have tested positive for the virus.  Six of the patients are in serious condition. Thus far, 12 Israelis have made a full recovery from COVID-19, the illness linked to the virus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that he wants Israeli labs to reach 5,000 daily tests as part of the efforts to defeat the coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time the Mossad’s cyber staff is currently assisting the Ministry of Health in writing unique software and applications for dealing with the virus.  This is an unusual event in which all the intelligence and security agencies of the State of Israel are mobilizing to assist efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

The Mossad stepped in as part of a comprehensive effort, encompassing all the state intelligence and security agencies, to curb the spread of the virus.

Also on Wednesday (18th), following reports that medical teams nationwide are running dangerously low on protective gear, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the Defense Ministry’s Procurement Administration to purchase all necessary supplies.



Israel Closes Borders To All Foreigners As Coronavirus Spreads

Israel on Wednesday (18th) closed the door fully on foreigners visiting Israel, barring all non-citizens from entering the country even if they could show they had a place to stay for the mandatory two-week home isolation that was imposed on incoming passengers to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“Pursuant to recommendations from the Ministry of Health, as of Wednesday (18th), entry into Israel by foreign nationals will not be permitted, even if they have proven the ability to stay in quarantine,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said.

Israel last week restricted entry to non-Israelis unless they had arranged to stay in a private residence for the quarantine imposed on everyone arriving from abroad.  Hotels were not considered residences, and the flow of foreigners had slowed to a trickle as the Ministry of Health introduced strict rules to keep Israelis at home and limit person-to-person contact which is known to spread the virus.

By Wednesday afternoon (18th) Israel had identified 433 carriers of the virus, more than double the total of 200 cases that had been found as of Sunday (15th).  With the number of those infected beginning to show exponential growth, officials and experts warned there could be 10,000 cases of coronavirus in Israel in the next two weeks.



All Knesset Members To Be Tested For Coronavirus

A decision was made on Wednesday (18th) to test all Knesset members for the coronavirus, reported The Jerusalem Post.

According to the report, the decision was made on Tuesday (17th) after Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Agriculture Ysahi Hanegbi were ordered into quarantine after being exposed to Merhavim regional council head Shai Hajaj, who recently tested positive for the virus.

MKs Ben Barak and Alon Schuster were also ordered into quarantine on Tuesday (17th) after coming into contact with Hajaj earlier in the week.

On Sunday (15th), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his staff received a clean bill of health after being tested for the deadly virus.

“In accordance with instructions by the manager of Defense and Emergency at the Prime Minister’s Office, routine corona tests on the prime minister and his immediate environment are conducted,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

However, his office did not say whether Netanyahu or his staff had been exposed to a carrier of the virus.

President Reuven Rivlin’s office announced on Monday (16th) that the president and his staff received a clean bill of health after being tested “as a precautionary measure.”



Israel’s Corona Hotel In Tel Aviv Receives Its First Guests

The Dan Panorama hotel already received its first 10 guests Tuesday evening (17th), Israel Hayom reported.

Dan Panorama opened in Tel Aviv as one of four hotels in the country that will act as quarantine spaces for those who have light symptoms of coronavirus.

Taking no chances, Magen David Adom brought them by ambulance, and they walked through isolated and sterilized hallways to get to their rooms.  Each was supplied with a kit from his or her health provider that will allow the medical staff to keep a remote eye on their condition.

The hotel can take in 500 patients, with the possibility of extending that number to 1,500 if need be, said the report.

While visiting the convalescent hotels Tuesday (17th), Defense Minister Naftali Bennett explained their two-fold purpose.

“These hotels are to be a pleasant island of tranquility, and a home for the light corona carriers in the months ahead,” Bennett said.  “This is our goal for the light corona carriers.”  

“The national goal is to suppress the jump of cases so that we don’t get to a situation like in Italy where hospitals are collapsing under the load, where a doctor in a hospital has to decide who dies and who lives, the grandfather or the father.  We don’t want to get to that point. The big goal is to locate the carriers and isolate them from the population,” he said.

Being turned into convalescent homes may be a mixed blessing for these hotels.  They could get to full occupancy at a time when Hebrew media are reporting that some 200 guest houses throughout the country have closed or are in the process of closing due to the bans ordered by health authorities in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.

“Nobody wants to see the numbers of victims rise – even those who are only mildly ill,” said Bennett.  



‘I Survived The Nazis, We’ll Get Through This’

[Holocaust survivor Shoshana Trister, 85, offers some perspective in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.]

“I’m 85 and live in Tel Aviv.  I was born in Galicia, which is now Ukraine,” Shoshana Trister told Israel Hayom.

During the Holocaust, she said, she and her family were sent to a labor camp, from which they escaped and managed to make it back to the area where they had lived.  They found various hiding places, including in the forest and with Gentile families.

“For two years we lived underground, nine people underneath a pigpen,” Trister said.  In 1950, Trister made aliyah.

“At first we lived in Ma’abra, an immigrant camp in Kfar Saba.  Mom and Dad immediately got typhus there and were hospitalized. I remember it as a very hard time, because I was far away.  I thought they would be in the hospital for a day or two but it was a few weeks. After the Holocaust, it was a major blow and I stayed in our tent and cried” 

 Now, as the novel coronavirus outbreak is posing a new kind of threat to the Israeli population, Trister is confined to her home.

“It’s very hard for me.  When I’m alone and confined to the home, I remember the loneliness I felt when my mother and father were hospitalized, and the loneliness I feel now as my husband Shlomo died four months ago,” she said.

“I’m used to being an active person, going out, speaking to students, painting.  Every day I usually walk to our local community center and meet my friends. Now I’m forced to stay home alone.  Every morning I exercise, water my plants, take care of the apartment, then I sit down to write or paint my memories.  I have a son who takes care of me. He comes and does my shopping. The rest of the kids call but it is hard not seeing them.”

Despite everything she has experienced in her life, Trister said she is “an optimist by nature.”

“What we went through dwarfs everything.  We might be stuck at home, but we have the freedom of being in Israel.  We survived the Holocaust. In the end, we won. We’ll beat coronavirus, and get through it.  We are strengthening everyone around us and taking strength from them. It will all be over – they’ll find a cure and we’ll go back to our daily routines.  We overcame everything before, and so we will again. We owe it to future generations,” she said.