Prof. Michael Levitt is the new hero for thousands of scared and frustrated Israelis. Levitt, a Nobel laureate and expert in computational biology, had already delivered his doctrine on the coronavirus to the masses last week in the financial newspaper Calcalist. On Wednesday, after meeting Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he was interviewed by Kan Reshet Bet radio, and recordings of the interview spread on social media faster than the coronavirus.
Michael Levitt smiles in Stanford, California, October 9, 2013.Robert Galbraith / REUTERS
Levitt, who advised the Chinese government after the virus erupted there, offers a forecast that is decidedly different from the apocalyptic scenarios governing the state’s response to the health crisis. He is less concerned with the rise in the number of newly diagnosed cases, which he says stems from both changes in definitions and the increase (albeit too slow) in the pace of testing.
– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 69
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The main statistic that interests him, and which he believes can be an indicator of the way COVID-19 is spreading, is the growth in the rate of patients who die from it. China, he told Kan, curbed the virus through intense isolations and closures, but the Israeli event is very different from the emerging disasters in Italy and Spain, and the relatively small number of patients in Israel so far doesn’t point to a widespread epidemic. In fact, Levitt said drily, he would be surprised if more than 10 Israelis ended up dying from the virus. When the newspaper, television and online headlines look like a daily count of the dead abroad and threaten much harsher results in Israel, it’s no wonder people are hanging their hopes on people like Levitt.
After the damage the virus has done in China, Iran and several European countries, hardly anyone would dare say that the coronavirus is “just flu with good public relations.” No one is questioning the need for the elderly to take special precautions. The focus is on the balance between two things: the growing paralysis of the economy, which is moving toward a full lockdown that would cause enormous damage, and the gloomy casualty predictions of the Health Ministry on which the increasingly stringent restrictions are based.
The interview with Levitt was fascinating. The professor, who isn’t an epidemiology expert, spoke quietly and confidently. Is he the only one seeing things correctly? We’ll know better in a week or two. Meanwhile, as a senior associate of Netanyahu’s put it, “When I want some encouragement, I read Prof. Levitt’s analyses, but when I have to work, I work with the Health Ministry scenarios.”