Gamzu Aims to Deploy IDF on Testing and Tracking of Coronavirus

Professor Ronni Gamzu (L) meets with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, on Motzoei Shabbos. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Israel’s newly appointed coronavirus task force chief, Professor Ronni Gamzu, stated his intention to reassign responsibility for testing and tracking potential coronavirus sufferers from the Health Ministry to the Defense Ministry.

Epidemiological testing and tracking under the Health Ministry has been on the verge of collapse because of a shortage of dedicated staff and the continued rise in cases, despite efforts to bolster the 27 nurses assigned to the project until recently with additional personnel.

Senior health officials, who are opposed to handing the entire project over the Defense Ministry, have suggested assigning the military with the task of only locating people who may have come into contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.

Following a meeting on Motzoei Shabbos with Gamzu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the IDF would be prepared to take on any assignment to assist in the efforts to disrupt chains of contagion and lower the number of coronavirus cases in Israel.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced plans to increase the involvement of the IDF in contact tracing of those who test positive for coronavirus. “We appointed Professor Gamzu to be the national project manager for the coronavirus. This week, Professor Gamzu will present an action plan to stop the chain of infection, and the IDF will play a significant role in this important task,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz – and before him, his predecessor Naftali Bennett – was pushing for the Defense Ministry to take a greater role in the management of the coronavirus crisis.

In addition, health and other experts had been stressing since April the need to put in place an “emergency management authority.” Gamzu is meant to lead such an authority.

Gamzu reports to the Health Ministry but is likely to leverage the IDF and other agencies to support him in his efforts.

On Thursday, Netanyahu said that Gamzu’s foremost task will be to figure out how to cut off the chains of infection.

“For this purpose, he will be given all the powers in three areas – testing, investigations and isolation,” Netanyahu said. “He will manage the isolation of carriers and patients that have been identified in order to interrupt the chain of infection.”

At their meeting, Gamzu and Gantz also discussed using discharged soldiers to help with the tracing. These individuals, who could work on the task full time, would help bolster the Health Ministry’s team of 27 trackers. They would all be former soldiers who worked in intelligence or the air force and managed data analysis as part of their roles.

Gamzu’s aim is to put in place a dedicated apparatus within days, which will answer directly to Netanyahu. The Health Ministry would have regulatory authority and the Defense Ministry would be in charge of the operational aspects through the IDF Home Front Command in coordination with local municipalities.

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