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State comptroller criticizes Netanyahu’s gov. for COVID management

CM 31/08/2021 1

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Delays in decisions and unwillingness to listen to experts during the first three waves of the pandemic severely affected the situation in the country during the pandemic found by the State Comptroller in a scathing report released on Tuesday.
Among the issues that the document brought to light was the lack of strategy to exit the lockdown after the first wave, that the coronavirus cabinet was not convened for a full month between July and August 2020 as morbidity was climbing up again, and the unwillingness of the government to listen to health officials’ requests which impaired their ability to fight the pandemic effectively. For example, the report noted, this happened by allowing tens of thousands of Israelis to travel and return to the country without getting tested.
 EMPTY JAFFA Street in Jerusalem, during the nationwide lockdown last Rosh Hashanah. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) EMPTY JAFFA Street in Jerusalem, during the nationwide lockdown last Rosh Hashanah. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“The government did examine whether the conditions required to exit from the lockdowns as defined in the National Security Council program actually were in place,” the report reads, referring to the first lockdown. “The outline approved by the government to exit the closure did not maintain two-week period gaps before each new step was implemented contrary to the experts’ recommendation.”
It took the government four months to appoint a coronavirus commissioner – and when the commissioner was appointed, he wasn’t given clear powers – and it took nine months to task the Home Front Command with the responsibility of epidemiological investigations to break the chains of infection. Before that, the attempt by the Health Ministry to set up a system was deemed a failure.
In addition, as the morbidity was rising in summer 2020, the government kept on delaying the approval of the Coronavirus Traffic Light System proposed by the Health Ministry, compromising the ability of health officials to effectively work to reduce morbidity. As a result, in September 2020 Israel found itself in lockdown for the second time.
The failure to effectively coordinate between central and local authorities also had negative consequences, especially in cities which became hotspots of infections, such as Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. Among others, the central authorities failed to promptly pass on information about those infected to the local authorities to allow them to assist verified patients and their families with necessities.
In the following period, the airport became one of the weakest points in the country’s efforts to contain the disease. However, in spite of the recommendations of health officials, travel was not further restricted and for many months neither were inbound passengers required to get tested.
An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport (credit: REUTERS)An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport (credit: REUTERS)
The COMPTROLLER also found that other decisions turned out to be rushed and lacked proper overview, for example purchasing thousands of respirators at the beginning of the pandemic that proved to be useless – Israel never had more than a few hundred intubated patients at the same time. According to the report, the decision was made by Netanyahu in discussions with selected officials but was never brought to the full government.
Several problems were also uncovered in the way the authorities related to the public and disseminated information about the pandemic.
The Health Ministry had not updated its communication infrastructure since 2007, causing it to find itself awfully unprepared to inform the public as well as able to contest the dissemination of “fake” news about the disease or the vaccines.
Some 72% of the phone calls to the Ministry’s dedicated hotline did not receive any response, for example, while the Ministry and the Home Front Command developed two completely separate information systems to offer explanations to the public, with no coordination – including two websites offering overlapping information for respectively NIS 11.5 million and NIS 4.1m.
In addition, activities to reach and offer explanations about the disease and the regulations to the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox sectors started late compared to those directed to the general population.
The Comptroller also criticized the government’s response to the pandemic within the education system, noting that Israeli children had to stay at home for some 188 days – longer than almost any other country – during about half of which no form of educational activity was offered.
In addition, approximately half of the teachers declared that they did not receive any training in how to improve their skills for online teaching. The authorities also failed to communicate clear guidelines, for example, clarifying when it was possible to demand that a student turn on their camera.
The report also highlighted the poor conditions in the Israeli healthcare system as the pandemic hit the country, with a chronic lack of manpower and beds.
“The audit found out that despite the Israeli government’s rapid understanding of the outbreak of coronavirus in the world, the risks involved and the need to take action to reduce the danger, deficiencies were found in decision-making processes and implementation during the period of the 34th government, in forming the corona cabinet and in the decision-making processes of the 35th government, in the activities of the government and cabinet during the period of the second wave, in the operational capability of the Health Ministry to deal with the crisis, and in the work of the National Security Council in assisting the government in managing the crisis,” wrote state comptroller Matanyahu Englman.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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