Foreign minister wants IDF to front anti-COVID campaign

Ashkenazi says Home Front Command, which already took responsibility for evacuations and food delivery during the pandemic, should also be given authority over coronavirus testing and epidemiological investigations

The IDF should take over responsibility for keeping Israel's spreading coronavirus epidemic in check, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said on Tuesday, in comments likely to fuel tensions within the government.
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  • A partial lockdown was lifted in May, but a second surge of infections has seen cases rise above 50,000 and deaths above 400, while Netanyahu's approval ratings have plunged to under 30% and employment soared to 21%.
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    גבי אשכנזי באולפן ynet
    גבי אשכנזי באולפן ynet
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    Ashkenazi said he expected a decision "this week" to hand the running of anti-coronavirus containment measures from the health ministry to the armed forces' Homefront Command.
    "This virus will not leave us for an entire year. Therefore there needs to be a change in management," Ashkenazi told Ynet. "Put ego aside ... I am saying this to Bibi (Netanyahu) ... I am saying we need to shift responsibility to the defense establishment."
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    מתחם בדיקות קורונה במזרח ירושלים
    מתחם בדיקות קורונה במזרח ירושלים
    Coronavirus testing center in Jerusalem
    (Photo: TPS)
    Netanyahu's office had no immediate comment, but he may be reluctant to empower rival-turned-partner Defence Minister Benny Gantz when they are already at odds over proposed Israeli annexations in the West Bank and budgets.
    Formed primarily to protect citizens from missile attacks, the Homefront Command is also trained to help during natural disasters and well equipped to communicate quickly with Israel's ethnically diverse sectors.
    Its troops have already helped out during the epidemic with evacuations and food distributions. A Blue & White source said Gantz and Ashkenazi want that role expanded to include testing and contact-tracing.
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     ועדת קורונה
     ועדת קורונה
    Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish
    (Photo: Knesset Channel)
    Likud Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish warned against drawing the conscript military into controversy among Israel's 9 million population akin to what met the use of counter-terrorism technologies to track coronavirus carriers.
    "You understand what it would mean if soldiers were to begin questioning people, with: 'What have you been doing, who have you been meeting with?'" Kish told Army Radio.
    "This is a super-sensitive matter, a health issue ... There's no ego element here," he said, calling current cooperation between the health ministry and the military "excellent".
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