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CORRECTED-In Tel Aviv COVID-19 ward, warnings of dwindling hospital capacity

(Corrects spelling of coronavirus ward director’s last name)

TEL AVIV, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Inside a fast-filling coronavirus ward in a Tel Aviv hospital, doctors rush to treat critical-care patients amid a surge in new cases that has forced Israel into a second nationwide lockdown.

Health officials fear that the three-week lockdown, imposed on Friday, may not be long or restrictive enough to slow the daily case toll and relieve hospitals that they warn could soon reach capacity.

New cases have reached daily highs of more than 5,000 among Israel’s 9 million population, sharply rebounding from single-digit lows following a relatively stricter initial lockdown from March to May.

On the front lines of Israel’s second COVID-19 wave are doctors and nurses working around the clock at Ichilov hospital, where half of 60 COVID-19 patients are in serious condition and require ventilation, according to a hospital spokesman.

Guy Choshen, director of Ichilov’s coronavirus ward, said the hospital has begun admitting patients from Jerusalem and districts in northern Israel “because of (their) incapacity to handle this increase in numbers”.

Dressed in head-to-toe protective gear, nurses on two-hour shifts weaved through the crowded ward to check on patients, separated from one another by glass and metal partitions.

“Right now we are 72 percent full, and every day we have more and more new patients. There’s not enough capacity,” Ichilov spokesman Avi Shoshan said.

Preparing for what he called “worst case scenarios”, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday he had told the military to be ready to erect a field hospital to relieve the overload.

Some officials have advocated for tightening the current lockdown. While schools have been closed, Israelis are still allowed to travel to work, gather in small groups and attend protests, among a wide list of other exceptions.

Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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