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Israeli military base churns out masks in virus battle

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QIRIYAT KRINITZI, Israel (AFP)

Workers at the Tel Ashomer military base near Tel Aviv were on Thursday busy making face masks and visors as Israel tries to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Tal Ashomer is where Israeli Merkava tanks, traditionally used to combat conventional forces of neighbouring Arab states, are manufactured.

But as Israel battles the spread of the COVID-19 disease, which has infected more than 6,800 people in the Jewish state, the military has been asked to lend a hand.

The army at Tal Ashomer has "quickly adapted its production" to churn out thousands of face masks and protective visors daily, Lieutenant-Colonel Hagai Zamir, told AFP.

Zamir, who heads the workshop, said the "factory is working around the clock all year around" to make parts for Merkava tanks and other equipment.

But when the call came to make face masks the military did not hesitate, he said.

"We have the abilities and human resources so we made a quick conversion," Zamir added.

Lieutenant Colonel Emanuel Guedj, who is in charge of military engineering work, said the masks would be distributed to soldiers as well as civilians.

Soldiers, officers, engineers and civilians have also been working on converting containers into virus testing facilities, while others are installing plastic sheets in ambulances to create shields between infected patients and drivers.

According to Guedj, the army has also built a robot capable of disinfecting large areas.

"The army has an advantage: it can work in emergencies. It can provide solutions during wars where the enemy is visible but also in wars where the enemy cannot be seen," he said.

Chief of staff Aviv Kochavi is among senior figures, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been in precautionary quarantine, though they have not tested positive for COVID-19.

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