For Better or Worse, Israel Is Reveling in That ‘End of Coronavirus’ Feeling

It happened more quickly than we thought. Israel is deep into the feeling that the coronavirus crisis is over. After a month and a half of quarantine, Israelis have had it.

Problems making a living, strict decrees, and a bit of panic in the government and the television studios wore down Israelis’ patience. People started going outside in droves and the government had to make decisions in a hurry about lifting restrictions just to keep up.

– corona-stats
– Annexation isn’t the end of the world. Listen to Gideon Levy

For Israel and Palestine, annexation isn’t the end of the world. Listen to Gideon Levy

Meanwhile, the number of newly infected people has plummeted with perhaps surprising speed, and more and more people are getting better every day. Each of the past two days has seen only a few dozen newly confirmed cases.

The rate of the spread of the disease, R0, has apparently declined to 0.7; that is, every infected person infects less than one other person. And so far, even though we have to wait at least another week, there are no stats showing a renewed rise in the infection rate after the lifting of restrictions and the general disinclination to follow the rules.

Despite the desire of politicians and journalists to simply explain the differences in the way the virus has struck different countries, most scientists believe the answer isn’t clear.

Israelis, some wearing masks, crowd Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market, May 1, 2020.Tomer Appelbaum

Does the virus slow down in all countries after two or three months? What about average age, climate, population density, genetics, the number of entry points and multigenerational family living? And what about the quarantining and social-distancing efforts, and their timing? Maybe things will become clearer with further research.

The disease’s decline in Israel has been particularly steep, but a similar process, albeit slower, can be seen in Italy and Spain, which were hit hard by the virus. In United States and Britain, which responded comparatively late, the disease is still raging.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference that sometimes looked like a party celebrating the end of the coronavirus or an awards ceremony. Once again, Netanyahu highlighted the differences in the mortality rate between Israel and other countries; Israel comes out looking very good.

But a comparison with our neighbors might also be in order. In Jordan, Egypt, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip the coronavirus death rate has been minimal. That may be because testing has been low, and thus the true death rate is being missed. Or it might be because there are few airline connections with the outside world.

But another important component is apparently the low average age in Arab countries. The population in these states is even younger than in Israel, so they’re less vulnerable. And Israel’s population is much younger than those of most European countries.

First day of school after the easing of coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem, Israel, on May 3, 2020.Emil Salman

The sense of pressure among the Palestinians has also declined. At the beginning of the crisis, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, conveyed a slight sense of panic. Maybe he had seen too many press conferences by the team of Netanyahu and Moshe Bar Siman Tov, the director general of the Health Ministry.