“The entire country is burning,” wrote Professor Sigal Sadetzky — until this week, the head of public health services in Israel’s Health Ministry — in her resignation letter on Tuesday.
On that day, 1,437 new cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed, the highest daily rate yet. The number of serious cases remained still low, at 86, with 34 on ventilators.
Prof Sadetzky, an anonymous civil servant until a few months ago, has been one of the most controversial figures in the country’s struggle against the pandemic. And as a new health minister took the reins last month — and, last week, a new director-general — she finally had to come to terms with the fact that she no longer had her bosses’ confidence.
Back in April, her calls to impose lockdown were heeded. Not so her warnings against easing the restrictions too quickly. In the long, passionate letter, Prof Sadetzky decried the fact that Israel was woefully prepared for the second wave of infections, because “too much times is invested in debates, discussions, consultations and forums”.
Colleagues in the medical profession who have for months now been critical of her opposition to carrying out what she called “inefficient” large-scale covid-19 testing, where not sad to see her go. “She should be blaming herself,” said one hospital director.
But at the same time, there was also sympathy for Prof Sadetzky over the way she is now being portrayed — as the main culprit, and via anonymous leaks to the press.
“She has her share of the blame, but it’s obvious that the politicians are now using her as a scapegoat,” said one colleague.
Prof Sadetzky’s departure was by no means an end to the chaos that is still characterising much of the government’s handling of the crisis. On Wednesday morning, the deputy health minister Yoav Kish said in an interview that the ministry had tried to hire 350 currently furloughed security guards from Ben Gurion Airport to work in the new contact-tracing system, but that the Treasury Ministry had refused to release the necessary NIS 17 million (£3.5 million).
In other covid-related news this week, the government originally ruled that due to the fear of infection, buses would not be allowed to use their air-conditioning in the sweltering summer heat but would instead operate with open windows. This policy was reversed when it transpired that nearly all the buses in use in Israel do not have windows that open. Instead, transport minister Miri Regev ruled that they would operate at 50 per cent capacity, with air-conditioning.
Ms Regev herself arrived on Tuesday morning at a lavish reception to open a new interchange near Ashdod, where the number of people attending was way above the 50-person limit the government had decided upon the previous night.
“We’re here, not exactly according to the health ministry’s regulations,” she admitted in her speech. “There should be less people. Next time I’ll make sure things like this won’t happen.”
The new Israeli government was set up as a “emergency national-unity government” but, so far, it is showing mainly disunity in dealing with the pandemic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused the entreaties of his defence minister and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz to give the military more powers fighting the pandemic, including responsibility for the contact-tracing.