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Israel opens first psychiatric ward for coronavirus patients

Face masks are worn under coronavirus concerns on 4 March 2020 in Israel [Amir Levy/Getty Images]
Face masks are worn under coronavirus concerns on 4 March 2020 in Israel [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

An Israeli hospital has opened what it claims to be the world's first psychiatric coronavirus ward, the Times of Israel has reported. The ward at Sheba Medical Centre was put together following the news that 100 patients contracted the deadly virus in a psychiatric hospital in South Korea earlier this month.

"The situation we have worked to prevent isn't science fiction, it happened in South Korea and also in China," explained Mark Weiser, the head of the hospital's psychiatric division. "We've seen how quickly the virus can spread in a psychiatric ward, and while patients aren't typically old, they are at risk because of various conditions and because many are taking antipsychotics."

Due to many of the patients failing to follow social distancing rules, he added, trying to isolate those psychiatric who have contracted coronavirus in the hospital's regular wards could result in a disaster.
"Our wards are crowded and people have psychosis, mania, impaired judgement," said Weiser. "You can ask them to stay away from one another and not to touch but often this doesn't happen; they don't observe social distancing."

However, transferring psychiatric patients from regular coronavirus wards can also pose a threat, especially if they become aggressive. "Some patients can behave in a disturbed manner and be violent," Weiser pointed out. He emphasised that it is vital for every facility of the new psychiatric ward to be designed with this in mind. "The bottom line is that what we're doing is giving optimal medical care while protecting ourselves from being infected and taking into account legal and human rights."

Sheba Medical Centre is in Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv. The new ward has a capacity of 16 patients; four of the beds are already occupied.

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