03:32 GMT03 March 2021
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    Although Israel's health care system is considered one of the best in the world, professionals are complaining that the most recent wave of the pandemic has created an unprecedented situation that is putting a strain on the country's hospitals and staff.

    Despite its third lockdown and a number of restrictive measures implemented by the government, the daily number of new coronavirus patients in Israel continues to be alarming.

    More than 3,000 new patients were registered on Sunday, and authorities have already said that the lockdown -- imposed some two weeks ago to curb the spread of the virus -- will remain intact at least until the end of the month.

    On the Verge of Collapse

    Meanwhile, reports suggest that Israeli hospitals are struggling to cope with the situation, and Dr. Gadi Segal, the director of Israel's first coronavirus department at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Central Israel, says the situation is difficult.

    "It is not only the flow of patients," he says over the phone, "it is also the condition of those patients, so the numbers don't really reflect the burden our hospitals are dealing with".

    In previous waves, most coronavirus patients were treated at home. Only a small fraction was admitted to hospitals across Israel.

    This time around, however, the situation is different. As of Saturday, Israeli hospitals housed more than 1,100 coronavirus patients in serious and even critical condition, placing a significant strain on the country's medical centres.

    Today Israel has 2,000 coronavirus beds and Director General of the Ministry of Health Hezi Levy has already stated that his goal was to increase that amount so that Israel would end up having 3,200 of them.

    Overworked Staff

    Segal says that equipment is the least of Israel's problems, as the country's medical system has long been considered one of the best in the world.

    "The problem is not in beds and wards as we can easily transform other departments into COVID-19 [units]. The main challenge is staff, and particularly the lack of ICU nurses," explains Segal.

    In 2018, two years before the outbreak of the pandemic, a report found that Israel had a relatively low number of doctors (3 per 1,000) and nurses (5 per 1,000) compared to other OECD countries.

    That situation hasn't changed since then, but what did change was the strain currently put on the doctors, who are often forced to work 26 hours in a row to meet the demands of patients.

    "Staff has been grinded for a year now. It's been challenging. But our system will not collapse. And now my hope is that the vaccines [being administered across the country] will work," Segal continues.

    Israel has become the leader in the race to vaccinate its population. Since December, when the mass project kicked off, Israel has inoculated more than 2.5 million people, with 200,000 doses administered almost daily.

    A medical worker prepares to administer a second vaccination injection against the coronavirus disease as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, during a third national COVID-19 lockdown, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) in Tel Aviv, Israel January 10, 2021
    © REUTERS / RONEN ZVULUN
    A medical worker prepares to administer a second vaccination injection against the coronavirus disease as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, during a third national COVID-19 lockdown, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) in Tel Aviv, Israel January 10, 2021

    If this pace continues, Israel will vaccinate the majority of its nine million citizens by the end of March, unless there is a strain of the virus that proves to be resilient to the vaccine.

    This is the reason why Segal believes the Israeli public should still adhere to the regulatory measures imposed by the government and has rushed to reassure that the situation, despite difficulties, remains under control.

    "It is difficult to see all these patients dying," says Segal, referring to more than 4,400 people who have already lost their lives in the country because of the pandemic. "The quality and the attention we are giving to each patient is decreasing, and we are far from the standards we would like to have but we will not collapse. Our system is extremely strong and will go through this."
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    health care, doctor, coronavirus, COVID-19, Hospitals, hospital, Israel
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