Israel’s COVID-19 Experts: The Lockdown Saved the Country, but Steps Are Needed to Avert Another

The experts who advised the National Security Council during the coronavirus crisis have no doubt: If the right decisions hadn’t been made at the right time – as early as possible – Israel’s fate would have resembled that of badly stricken Western countries.

They say it’s very simple: There are no shortcuts. Countries that swiftly closed their gates, isolated people who returned from abroad and imposed a lockdown early on saved the lives of thousands, if not tens of thousands. Those that tarried, tried to dodge the truth or made foolish decisions got hurt.

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In recent weeks, amid Israel’s dramatically lower infection rate and death rate, critics are increasingly bashing the government’s policy during the crisis, saying the pandemic’s severity in Israel was overrated, or that the lockdown was too broad and long, unnecessarily damaging the economy.

The experts who advised the NSC apparently had the greatest influence on the decision-making, which was concentrated in the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Prof. Eli Waxman , a physicist from the Weizmann Institute of Science, headed the team of 10 members, though in the panel’s first incarnation, few were pandemic experts and few were women; these aspects got criticized. Waxman, Israel Bar-Joseph, also a physics professor at Weizmann, and Yarom Ariav, a former director general of the Finance Ministry, talked to Haaretz about their work.

The 10 experts entered the picture in mid-March. According to Waxman, “At that time things were murky. There were a lot of contradictory situation assessments by experts who provided different predictions – from the claim that it was like the flu to tens of thousands of deaths expected in Israel.

“Within three days we wrote our first report. It included a quantitative analysis of the data in Israel and many other countries, a reliable assessment of the situation and data-based predictions on what would happen.