Shaare Zedek Director-General Voices Cautious Optimism Over Virus Statistics

The number of patients is doubling every three days, notes Shaare Zedek’s Ofer Merin, ‘but the number of critically ill patients, especially those dying, is quite low at this time’

Although there is a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus deaths and diagnoses in Israel, the statistics actually give rise to cautious optimism, a hospital director has suggested.

Ofer Merin, Director General of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, indicated that if hospitals continue along the current trajectory they could see a lower fatality rate from the virus than in some other countries. “I am not sure that in every country it behaves in the same way,” he said, discussing the virus.

Israel didn’t have a single coronavirus fatality before the weekend but has now seen five (two of them since Merin made his comments Tuesday), and doctors expect to see several more this week. The number of diagnosed has risen sharply to 2,369, of which 37 are in serious condition.

“What we can say in general in Israel, is that the number of patients is doubling every three days, around the same as Europe. But, the number of critically ill patients, especially those dying, is quite low at this time,” Merin said.

He stressed that Israel is at “a very early stage,” and his comments should be taken in this context.

Merin made his observations in a webinar titled “The Corona Wakeup Call: Innovation and Startups,” organized by the Israel-based investment company Jerusalem Venture Partners.

Eran Zehavy, Chief Innovation Coordinator at the Israel Institute of Biological Research, also voiced optimism in the webinar about research that could combat the virus.

“Major goals are to develop a vaccine and a neutralizing antibody that could be used as a treatment for infected people. We are developing antigens and the like, and already have very encouraging results,” he said.

Zehavy’s institute is believed to have been one of the best-prepared to begin coronavirus research, and according to an Israeli media report received frozen samples of the virus from overseas weeks ago.

Zehavy said that start-ups are being brought in to deliver practical applications for government research as quickly as possible.

“I have personally discussed with at least 50 people — start-ups and the like — to hear from them and work together. We already have three agreements, including with two small start-ups. We are trying as much as possible to collaborate.”

While one of big questions that Israelis are asking about coronavirus is how specialist hospital facilities are coping, Merin said that “the biggest challenge we are facing is not the patients diagnosed with coronavirus.” He said it is actually the worry that patients who arrive at the hospital for matters unrelated to the virus will turn out to be infected — and pass the virus to other patients and staff.

“On a daily basis, we are trying to look at every patient, even the young, to see if they are carrying the disease,” he stated, noting that if infected people enter normal wards, the virus can sweep through staff. “In Spain, almost 15% of the sick population is healthcare providers. So, we have to be quite strict with the regulations.”

“One of the great challenges is to look after the medical staff members. These are people with concerned families and we need to keep safe this crazy environment.”