Welcome to the Coronavirus State of Israel and Its Standstill Economy

Israelis should be watching carefully how Italy is responding to the outbreak of the coronavirus, because it offers a glimpse into what we can almost certainly expect at home. It’s not very encouraging.

It was one thing to watch from afar as China grappled with the virus. Some 760 million people have been subject to one kind of lockdown or another. Nonresidents have been blocked from entering cities, and neighborhood vigilantes monitor people leaving their homes. The result is that the Chinese economy has come to a near standstill, as evidenced perversely by the drop in air pollution due to closed factories and the absence of traffic.

But that’s China, a country where the government until recently told people how many children they could have, and continues to tell them what they can say and think, and where they can live.

Italy is a better model for Israel –  a democratic country where citizens don’t expect their lives to be micromanaged by the authorities. 

Get ready for the coronavirus state and micromanagement. As of Monday morning, Italy had just 152 confirmed cases of the virus and four deaths had been reported. Yet, already 50,000 people in 10 towns are under extended quarantine. Police are monitoring the entrances into town. 

In the Lombardy and Veneto regions, where the affected towns are located, schools, museums, universities and cinemas are closed and public events, such as the Venice Carnival, have been canceled or cut short. Giorgio Armani went ahead with his show for Milan Fashion Week, but disinvited buyers and journalists, who had to "attend" online.

Lombardy and Veneto generate about 30% of Italian gross domestic product, so you can imagine the impact if a full-fledged lockdown is imposed on the entire region. It’s no wonder the Italian stock market is plunging.