Preparations for the situation are being made under the auspices of the emergency work law, which was in the past applicable only during war time, but has been recently extended to include mass-casualty disasters, earthquakes, and epidemics.
If the virus, which has thus far claimed two lives in Israel – a man from Eilat and a young woman from Maalot Tarshiha, continues to spread, the law places it within the government's power to recruit workers from various fields. Should the need arise, certain workers will also be committed to remain at their places of work beyond the permissible hours stipulated by law.
Recruitment will take place for various government ministries, local authorities, and vital private companies, such as food, transportation, and media. However, the main focus of the possible recruitment effort will be for doctors and health workers. Professionals from the health field have been called up for work during other national emergencies, such as the Gulf War and at the end of the Second Lebanon War in select areas.
"As of now, this is only a theoretical situation," Eli Paz, appointed to the emergency economy in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministy, told Ynet. "We don't know what kind of workers we will need to recruit if we, Heaven forbid, reach that point, but we need to be prepared for any situation and to think about what we will need to reinforce."
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Ministry of Health to procure vaccinations against swine flu for all Israeli citizens at the price of about NIS 450 million (about $118 million). Ministry professionals recommended the move, but noted that it is uncertain whether the vaccination would receive authorization for use by the winter.
Additionally, it remains unclear what budget will be used to finance the procurement of the vaccinations. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman committed that funding would not come at the expense of the ministry's medicine basket.
Health Ministry Director General Prof. Avi Yisraeli estimated that the expected outbreak of swine flu this winter will claim about 700 lives, most of them young people.
These statistics were presented in the Knesset Health Committee's discussion on acquiring vaccinations against the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.
Prof. Yisraeli said during the discussion that apparently one quarter of the population in Israel will contract the virus. He also reported that there will be a shortage of 4,500 hospital beds resulting from increased strain on hospitals.
Yisraeli noted that the expected flu outbreak this winter is likely to keep many workers from coming to work and will negatively affect industry and tourism.