Professor Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Sourasky Medical Center, was appointed Israel’s “coronavirus czar” by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein after midnight on Wednesday night, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Gamzu, a former Health Ministry director-general, was praised by Netanyahu for his work on developing the Magen Avot Ve’imahot program, a plan to protect Israel’s senior living facilities from COVID-19, which is still in use.
The appointment of Gamzu came after Prof. Gabriel Barbash rejected Netanyahu’s offer following a battle over the power of the new post.
Just hours before, Gamzu had praised Barbash as the right person for the role. “The appointment of Prof. Gabi Barbash as the coronavirus project manager is excellent,” Gamzu wrote in a social media post. “This is the right man in the right place! This is the best decision the government has made since the start of the crisis.” He described Barbash as “determined,” “detail-oriented” and a person who does not take no for an answer; he knows how to give respect, but also how to get angry.”
Barbash had demanded that by late Wednesday, both Netanyahu and Edelstein must come to an agreement or he would refuse the position.
There were reports about infighting between Netanyahu and Edelstein, as well as disagreement whether Barbash would report to Edelstein or the coronavirus cabinet, which would in effect mean reporting to the prime minister.
Since it was announced that they would create a coronavirus czar, several people were considered and declined the appointment because they felt they would not have the authority needed to be successful.
“The most important thing is that the manager will have all the responsibility and authority he needs to manage the pandemic,” said Prof. Eli Waxman, who was the prime minister’s No. 1 consultant on the coronavirus crisis during the first wave. “I am very worried about the fact that you had very good candidates who had all the required qualifications and they were not interested because the government refused to transfer to them the required responsibility.