Israel started August with the goal of getting daily new coronavirus infections down from 2000 to under 500 by the end of the month. Unfortunately, we have gone the opposite direction, hitting over 5,000 on Tuesday. With a record spike in coronavirus cases in the past week, Israel is heading into the biblical high holidays under the shadow of a national lockdown and an acute sense of confusion over what that specifically entails.
The lockdown is set to begin on Friday at 2 p.m. and will effectively shutter stores, restaurants, schools and gyms (among many other institutions) for at least three weeks. But it remains unclear how it will end – and even whether it will be effective.
In fact, the head of the doctors union, Hagai Levine, said the lockdown is the “stupidest and most hazardous solution” to the crisis.
“We should not shut down the country because of infected cases per day,” he told The Times of Israel. “This is more a media pandemic. The media is making such a fuss regarding the numbers. The scale we are at in hospitals is really relatively low.”
“You have to look at the health of all populations, not COVID-19 only, and people don’t understand that you need to look at the overall picture,” he said. “They don’t see the healthy people who will become depressed, lose health because of economic reasons, become subject to [domestic] violence, or gain weight and die of a heart attack.”
And while every death is a tragedy, the death rate is still low. Just over 1,000 people have died in seven months from coronavirus, and many of them had underlying conditions. That is from a population of 9,000,000. Israel death per case is under one percent at 0.68%, one of the lowest in the world.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on the government to resign in shame.
“The only country in the world putting its citizens into a second lockdown, needs to resign first,” Lapid said. “It’s an admission of failure. The citizens are being punished because the government has failed. This lockdown isn’t necessary from a healthcare perspective. It’s a death blow to the Israeli economy.”
“This lockdown won’t save lives, it will cost lives,” he continued. “Depression kills, hopelessness kills. People won’t go to the hospital with a heart attack; the elderly will be at home on their own.”
Coronavirus commissioner, Ronni Gamzu, suggested locking down only areas that had a high rate of infection, but that was shot down by Orthodox Knesset members who opposed the plan which would have affected primarily their constituents and Arab cities. But the reason that the Orthodox and the Arab cities have higher infection rates is because they ignore, at a much higher percentage, the social distancing rules, than the rest of the public. It is really that simple. But they want to punish the whole country because of their disobedience.
On Tuesday, Gamzu demanded an immediate shut down for the education system.
“Every day is crucial. The one thing I am counting on with this closure is the shuttering of the school system,” he said according to media reports.
He got his wish. A last-minute vote on Wednesday moved up the school closures by two days sent millions of students, teachers and parents scrambling to rearrange their schedules over the following two days including distance learning.
Police are even unclear about what to enforce in the complicated lockdown which will allow a limited number of people to worship together and require people stay within 500 meters of their homes.
Plus, leaders are already hinting at extending the lockdown beyond three weeks.
“I consulted with all the senior officials … and asked them whether there is a chance that the infection rate will go down under these conditions,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein reportedly said in a meeting. “To my great disappointment, I did not find anyone who was optimistic.”