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Amid shortages, Israel Defense Ministry to take over buying corona-related medical gear

Amid shortages in medical supplies, the Defense Ministry will purchase all equipment related to the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to make the process more efficient, the ministry said Wednesday.

The decision was made by the Defense Ministry, Health Ministry, Finance Ministry and National Security Council. It comes amid claims of insufficient medical equipment in hospitals and clinics.

“This is in light of the growing needs of the health care system and the special ability of the Defense Ministry to make emergency purchases and transport it internationally to the State of Israel,” the ministry said in a statement.

As part of this inter-agency agreement, the Health Ministry will determine what is needed and the Defense Ministry will make the purchases and import the goods into Israel in an “expedited process,” it said.

To speed up this effort, a representative from the Defense Ministry’s purchasing department will be stationed in the Health Ministry full-time to coordinate between the offices.

The ministry already operates several overseas purchasing departments, including its largest, in New York.

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to exempt Israel from an export ban on protective masks and the raw materials used to make medicines.

In a televised statement last Wednesday to announce new measures to contain the coronavirus, Netanyahu said he spoke by phone with Modi.

“We also depend on supply lines and we are working with other countries. We are in contact with them all the time,” he said at the time, without elaborating.

On Friday officials said Netanyahu asked Modi to lift the export bans on these items, which were imposed several weeks ago, as Israel imports most of the raw materials it needs for medicines from India.

Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said Modi agreed to allow the export of materials for medicines to Israel, but there was no decision yet on the masks and that Israel had a shortage of several hundred thousand.

Wednesday’s decision comes following reports the Israeli military is gearing up to play a greater role in managing the pandemic in the country.

The military is drafting new orders that would give it the powers to act to help stem the crisis and was adapting its “Summer Cage” orders prepared for the event of a wide-scale earthquake, Channel 13 reported Tuesday.

This would allow the IDF to initially begin by assisting Israel’s medical system, possibly setting up hospitals and taking in patients. It could also put its logistical capabilities, including vehicles, drivers and other facilities at the government’s disposal.

It was also preparing plans, should the situation deteriorate, to enforce curfews and lockdowns on the civilian population, although the TV noted that such a possibility was still “a long way off.”

The report said that the IDF believes the crisis will last for several months, and even possibly up to a year.