Israel’s Many Coronavirus Exit Strategies Fail to Address Its Most Basic Failure

The flattening of the coronavirus infection-and-fatalities curve in Israel, and most of all the stabilization in the number of patients requiring a respirator, has sped up discussions in the past few days on an exit strategy from the crisis. Even though it is clear that this will be a long process, and a number of restrictions are expected to continue for many months, it seems that the media, as well as the public, is now less busy with counting the number of dead and those on respirators, and is more interested in the question of how can the economy be put back to work.

– Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troops

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troopsHaaretz

The change does not only come from the pandemic data. Most Israelis have been stuck at home for over a month and leave for only a few short breaks. The elderly are besieged and isolated, families with young children are busy trying to somehow pass the time, and for families that were already on the edge – because of poverty or a violent atmosphere in the home – the crisis has exacerbated an already bad situation.

For many, it is an insufferable mental burden. Moreover, for quite a few people – the newly unemployed, self-employed and even those with salaries whose jobs are in question – the crisis is accompanied by immediate financial fears.

These circumstances highlight claims that minimize the severity of the health risk. The coronavirus is marked as someone else’s problem: The elderly (the average age of those who have died from COVID-19 as of the beginning of the week was 81), Haredim (whose communities and neighborhoods had the highest infection rates), or the Arabs (in East Jerusalem and surroundings the signs of an outbreak in coming days have been multiplying).

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett speaks on the phone at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 16, 2020Emil Salman

The fear of the virus is being replaced by a certain degree of complacency. It is no accident that police are reporting a drop in civilians following the coronavirus instructions after the first day of the Passover holiday. It is a natural result, not just of the erosion in willingness because of the time that has passed, but also of the infuriating double standard that our elected officials demonstrated on seder night.

All this is the background for the great number of calls for rapid easing of the restrictions on the economy. In the background is developing a sort of viral doubt, in the spirit of what Prof. Michael Levitt said here a month or so ago. Is the coronavirus killing the elderly, or is it a background factor, with the disease only slightly accelerating the unavoidable result of the prior medical complications? Is the reduction in the rate of infection the result of the determined steps taken by the Israeli government a month ago, or is this simply how the virus has been behaving all over the world: first hitting like a tidal wave and after a few weeks receding?

For now, new online heroes are being born, people who are undermining the foundations of strict order dictated from above. Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, chairman of the Israel Space Agency, claimed in an article he published that the peak of the spread of the virus in Israel is behind us, and it is possible within a few days to end the closure policy and replace it with a “policy of moderate social distancing.” Psychiatrist Prof. Yoram Yovell wrote that Israel has fallen into a dangerous state of “tunnel vision,” wallowing in the number of dead and failing to see the enormous economic and psychological damage that the closure is causing.