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Israel Leading the COVID-19 Fight

July 1, 2020

by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer

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During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, the tiny nation of Israel proudly wore the title of safest country to be during the pandemic. Israel, nicknamed “the Start-up Nation,” stands among other world powers in the battle against COVID-19. This nation has kept pace with the US, the UK, China, Germany, Japan and other countries in the race to develop a vaccine for the virus—despite the fact that it is a fraction of the size of the other nations.

Being a tiny fish in an awfully large pond has forced the Jewish state to learn to adapt quickly and think outside the box. Israel is at the forefront of military technology and has the highest per capita of start-ups in the world. Harnessing those strengths means every day seems to bring a headline proclaiming a new Israeli innovation in technology or medicine to battle the virus. Experts from a broad variety of fields—medicine, science, technology, military, academia, security, etc.—across the start-up nation are teaming up in the fight.

“The brightest minds in the country, from all the various sectors, are committed and working around the clock in order to identify and develop the technological solutions that will contribute to the national effort to cope with the corona pandemic,” Brig.–Gen. Dani Gold, who developed the Israel Iron Dome missile defense system, said in a statement.

Start-up Nation Innovation

Dr. Amit Zabatani, Sheba Medical Center, heads up a project to convert CPAP machines into ventilators

These Israeli experts are repurposing military technology from defending the nation’s borders from external enemies to defending its civilians from the invisible enemy within that has infected thousands of Israelis. They have developed lights that can disinfect a small area from the virus, testing kits that provide results in a minute, robots that can care for a virus patient rather than exposing medical staff to possible infection, and a disinfectant tunnel that mists electrolyzed water on anyone passing through.                   

Israeli researchers across the country are working to repurpose past projects for a vaccine against COVID-19. One of the frontrunners in research and development is the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), which reportedly has successfully tested a vaccine on rodents. The Defense Ministry-run research institute also discovered an antibody that kills the virus, which could be used for a treatment rather than a vaccine—an achievement praised as a “significant breakthrough” by then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. “Jewish creativity and ingenuity brought about this amazing achievement.”

An Israeli company developed a product called TransAlgae, which engineers algae as a delivery channel for a vaccine to the immune system. The vaccine was originally developed to use for animals and crop insecticides, according to Israel21c, but the company was talked into repurposing its product for such a time as this. “We are not a pharma company and were not interested in going into human health at this moment,” the vice president for business development told Israel21c. “But our shareholders were asking us, why not use this for human beings? We took the challenge.” Dozens more Israeli companies, universities and research institutes are in various stages of researching and developing a vaccine.

Israel also used its technological prowess for preventative measures. At the height of the spread of the virus across Israel, the Health Ministry released an app called HaMagen that tracked users’ movements, cross-referenced them with the movement of people confirmed to be infected and notified users to enter into self-quarantine.

Finding Allies in the Fight

A ventilator developed at Sheba Medical Center for coronavirus patients

Israel does not choose to fight the virus alone, either, but has offered to team up with other countries to overcome COVID-19. In May, the European Union, France, Germany, the UK, Norway and Saudi Arabia teamed up to form Coronavirus Global Response in a worldwide effort to battle the virus. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged US $60 million to the effort.

In a video message to other participating world leaders, Netanyahu noted that Israel had been affected by the virus like the rest of the world but had a relatively low death rate. “This has been the result of early action to contain the disease, advanced technology to locate those infected, first-rate medical professionals and a disciplined population that largely adhered to [the government’s regulations].”

“But ultimately, to ensure both the public health and national prosperity, we must all work together on improving diagnostics, accelerating therapies and ultimately developing a vaccine,” Netanyahu continued. “I am confident that Israel’s leading research institutions, its world-renowned scientists and our unique culture of innovation can enable us to play an important role in advancing solutions on all three fronts.”

Bridging the Gap

Other nations took notice of the Jewish state’s technological prowess—nations who might not cooperate with Israel otherwise. Three Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, began partnering with Israeli researchers and medical experts. A member of the UAE’s royal family even visited Israel’s Sheba Medical Center—a frontrunner in virus research—an official from the hospital told the Times of Israel, and has remained in touch on their progress. The cooperation will hopefully harness the power of medicine to bridge the diplomatic gap between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the official noted.

At the height of the worldwide panic and competition between nations to stock up on ventilators, the Israeli branch of Medtronic medical devices company provided the blueprints for its ventilators free of charge to anyone in need. “Our goal is to prolong lives—to save lives, in fact,” the CEO of the Israeli division told Arutz Sheva. “This is what’s needed right now, in the emergency situation we’re in, and this consideration comes before everything else.”

Israel is utilizing its strengths to fight the current crisis—just as it always has—and is building goodwill with its neighbors in the process.

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