Ventilator technician looks over dozens of life-saving machines in a makeshift coronavirus ward at Rambam Health Care Campus' parking lot during Israel's second wave of coronavirus infections, September 23, 2020

'Doctors will have to prioritize saving some patients over others'

Israeli military's retiring virus task force chief sounds the alarm on impending Omicron tsunami, predicting the country's health system will collapse under an unprecedented influx of COVID hospitalizations

Sarit Rosenblum |
Published: 12.30.21, 10:34
There aren't many Israelis who have a better acquaintance and more profound understanding of the coronavirus pandemic than Brigadier General Reli Margalit — commander of the Israeli military's Alon Coronavirus Command Center and one of the founders of the country's epidemiological investigations apparatus.
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  • Before he goes on his long-planned retirement, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) virus task force chief sat down with Ynet's sister publication Yedioth Ahronoth and shared his grim outlook on the path the Jewish nation is heading down as infections of the highly transmissible Omicron variant do the rounds among the populace.
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    מתקן טיפול נמרץ לחולי קורונה בחניון רמב"ם
    מתקן טיפול נמרץ לחולי קורונה בחניון רמב"ם
    Ventilator technician looks over dozens of life-saving machines in a makeshift coronavirus ward at Rambam Health Care Campus' parking lot during Israel's second wave of coronavirus infections, September 23, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    "I am very, very concerned. But this variant has less horrible sides. It barely binds to lung cells. It mainly attacks the upper respiratory system, causing milder illness, but it is still highly infectious, including to the vaccinated," Margalit says.
    "I'll go on a limb and say this — There is almost zero chance you meet an Omicron patient and not get it yourself."
    Despite the new strain also affecting the vaccinated, global data and studies have shown that they remain far better protected from severe illness and death compared to their unvaccinated counterparts. Margalit believes that the impending Omicron tsunami will quickly dissolve any feelings of hesitancy vaccine refuseniks may still have.
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    תא"ל רלי מרגלית במפקדת הקורונה
    תא"ל רלי מרגלית במפקדת הקורונה
    IDF Alon Coronavirus Command Center Commander Brig. Gen. Reli Margalit
    (Photo: Yonatan Blum)
    "They will run [to get vaccinated] within a week. They'll run amok to get it. I only hope it won't be too late," he says.
    The retiring general warns that Israel's already overburdened healthcare system will not be able to withstand the massive influx of Omicron-related hospitalizations, and doctors will have to prioritize saving some patients over others.
    "We have to make a distinction between severe illness and hospitalizations. It's not severe illness that concerns me. Say [Omicron's] hospitalization rate is half that of Delta, we're still talking about much greater absolute numbers. That's tens of thousands of infections a day, that's crazy. The healthcare system will collapse," he says.
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    טיפול בחולה קורונה בבילינסון
    טיפול בחולה קורונה בבילינסון
    Coronavirus ward at Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva
    (Photo: Assaf Kamar)
    "That means that within some time, which is no farther than a few weeks, unless they do something dramatic, there will be demand management of hospitalizations here. Ergo, there will be people who cannot receive treatment even though their condition requires so.
    Our hospitals will reach a reality that the State of Israel has never seen before. In the very next few weeks.
    The symptoms of the disease are admittedly much milder than Delta, especially in the vaccinated population, and yet, we have a very large population that is still not vaccinated, and we have a large elderly population. Patients in moderate condition are also hospitalized. It will be very difficult to answer for everyone. That is the most disturbing thing of all."
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