If Israel Seeks to Curb the Spread of the Coronavirus, It’s Going About It All Wrong

The most recent political maneuver of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is threatening to disband the national unity government while deliberately violating the agreement he signed, is also likely to have a negative effect on the battle against the coronavirus. The slowing of the rate of the spread of the virus in Israel in recent weeks is creating a misleading impression that the problem will soon be solved. However, that is far from the truth.

In effect, although there has been a decline in recent weeks in the daily number of confirmed new patients, many of them are young and asymptomatic carriers. The number dropped to about 1,600 each weekday (the number of tests on weekends is smaller), compared to over 2,000 on a weekday in mid-July. But that is the only significant recent change for the better. An average of about 10 Israelis have been dying every day from COVID-19 in recent weeks, the daily number of patients is still high, the number of those seriously ill is gradually climbing – and perhaps worst of all, the economic crisis is only beginning and is expected to worsen.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 91

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The new national coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, has adopted a policy that is necessary under the circumstances. In light of the economic damage from the virus, the government’s frequent zigzagging and the people’s growing lack of trust in the leadership’s considerations, Gamzu has declared publicly that he is not interested in another lockdown. He wants to impose a series of alternative steps, based on differential treatment of cities depending on their rate of illness, in order to avoid imposing a full lockdown.

But Gamzu is operating under the shadow of two target dates: the opening of the school year at the beginning of September and the start of the winter season, about two months later. The Education Ministry’s plan for renewing studies is still far from completion, full of obstacles, and expected to lead to a series of clashes between the government on the one hand, and the parents and the teachers’ organizations on the other.

We can also reasonably assume that as was the case in June, a limited opening of the educational institutions will lead to a certain increase in illness. Moreover, in winter there may be a significant increase in the burden on the hospitals due to expected illness from the flu. In order to reach these two junctures with reasonable conditions, there is a need for a genuine decline in COVID-19 cases.

Pressure on government

And here lies the catch: The small decline in illness reflects a drop in the contagion coefficient, which has apparently fallen to slightly below 1 (in other words – one patient infects slightly less than one person on average). But with the current political and economic pressures, for every additional decline in the daily illness rate, the government will immediately be expected to lift a few of the serious restrictions on the economy.