IDF fighting its own battle against the coronavirus

Several senior commanders were forced into quarantine along with thousands of soldiers as the army fights to maintain routine.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Several senior IDF commanders were forced into mandatory quarantine after being exposed to an army officer who later tested positive for the coronavirus, Channel 20 News reported Sunday.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, commander of the ground forces, and other senior officers from the Southern Command were close to an an IDF officer last week who is now sick with the virus. The officers will follow Health Ministry guidelines and isolate themselves, although they will continue to maintain as regular a schedule as possible, the report said. All are feeling well and reporting no symptoms.

The IDF Southern Command is responsible for the protection of 250 kilometers of Israel’s eastern border with Jordan, about 215 kilometers of the western border with Egypt and the 65 kilometer-border with the Gaza Strip.

It’s not the first time top generals have been forced to sleep and work from their offices. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi himself went through quarantine after coming into contact with infected people early in the pandemic, staying in his office the entire time in order to continue working and setting a precedent for other officers.

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The military has played a major role in helping the country get through the pandemic, providing manpower for the current vaccination program, distributing aid to hard-hit cities during lockdowns, and helping to run coronavirus test centers across the country.

The army has made changes to ensure training continues during the pandemic. Of the almost 70,000 Israelis currently infected with the virus, the IDF on Sunday reported, 2,377 soldiers and military employees are sick with mild symptoms and two soldiers are listed in moderate condition, with another 10,164 currently in quarantine after being exposed to someone infected.

There have been several serious outbreaks in the past week at bases around the country, which in one case forced the shutdown of an entire combat battalion, Channel 12 reported. At the same time, the military’s vaccination program has inoculated 114,000 soldiers of the roughly 170,000 active personnel; 26,000 have already received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

One of the outbreaks was at the Paratroopers Brigade training base in Shomria, in southern Israel, where 54 soldiers were infected. Platoons of soldiers have been separated into small “capsules” to limit the spread. Those who test positive are transported to separate IDF recovery facilities, with other soldiers sent home to isolate before returning to duty.

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Along the Gaza border another outbreak hit about 30 soldiers who specialize in surveillance, but to prevent any interruption in operational readiness, the IDF called up experienced reservists to fill their positions.