אלוף (מיל') גיורא איילנד
Giora Eiland
Photo: Amit Sha'al
Testing for coronavirus in the Negev community of Ara'ara where a surge in cases has been detected

Israel's muddled virus strategy sows confusion

Opinion: Israel has neglected to use of the early months of the pandemic and the reduction in COVID-19 cases to put in place a comprehensive strategy and the systems that must support it

Giora Eiland |
Published: 06.22.20 , 23:43
A typical Israeli characteristic is the ability to swing from euphoria to depression in a blink of an eye.
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  • Three months ago we were told by our leadership that the country can expect to see thousand of Israelis die of COVID-19. Then we were informed that the virus had been beaten and we can return to our lives, only to be advised one month later that we have begun experiencing a second wave of the disease and would likely lose hundreds to coronavirus and would have to lock down our economy once more.
    בדיקות קורונה ביישוב ערערהבדיקות קורונה ביישוב ערערה
    Testing for coronavirus in the Negev community of Ara'ara where a surge in cases has been detected
    (Photo: Leumi HMO)
    The actual figures of the sick, dying, have not supported such extremes swings of the pendulum, so what is the accurate state of affairs and what should we as a country do about it?
    We do not have a clear strategy. Since one has not been declared by the government, it is up to the public to attempt to fathom what it might be as we read between the lines.
    Six months ago, the declared strategy was to keep the number of people infected by coronavirus to a minimum. The current attempts by government ministers to agree on a strategy are quite different and can be summarized as a quick return of almost all economic activity under one caveat: to ensure the number of patients requiring ventilators remains below hospitals' capacity to treat them.
    The strategy favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz is unclear, resulting in confusing decision making (why, for example, was train traffic renewed on Monday and not two weeks ago?)
    תחנת רכבת נתניהתחנת רכבת נתניה
    The Natanya train station opened as trains are back in operation
    (Photo: AFP)
    Israel must use the resources at its disposal as quickly as possible.
    It is easy to understand that a return to lockdown will quickly reduce the number of infections, but it would also be the most expensive choice of action.
    In economics, the optimal solution is not one that yields the most productivity, rather the one that yields the most profit when considering cost versus benefit. Israel is far from exhausting the means at its disposal.
    Incoming Health Ministry Director-General Hezi Levi rightfully said on Sunday that it is paramount for the country to successfully break the chain of contagion, however, that has not been done.
    The Shin Bet Security Agency that was conscripted to help in the fight against COVID-19 has used only a fraction of its capabilities to track and trace infections and was in fact instructed to stop the little that it was doing before a civilian alternative could be used in its place. We are now left with a small number of nurses, who have no relevant experience, conducting epidemiological investigations.
    Moreover, if tracking and tracing are two separate functions, they cannot be of any benefit unless they are conducted by the same system of command and control.
    תמונה של מצלמת מעקב אחרי אזרחיםתמונה של מצלמת מעקב אחרי אזרחים
    A virus tracking system
    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    This is but one example, though. There are dozens more that reflect a simple truth - Israel has not taken advantage of the past five months to put a system in place to maximize the resources the country has to offer.
    One explanation might be the self-congratulatory manner adopted by the political leadership, and officials at the Health Ministry.
    Rather than taking such pride in our successes, the Ministerial Committee for the Coronavirus would have been better served by using the downward trend in COVID-19 cases to conduct a careful examination of how resources should be effectively allocated, and how to best optimize the medical success in combating the illness while achieving success in other national challenges, including combating other diseases that plague the healthcare system.
    תחנת רכבת נתניהתחנת רכבת נתניה
    Passengers enetering Netanya train station during coronavirus outbreak
    (Photo: AFP)
    For example, does a reduction in COVID-19 cases justify the NIS 300 million the economy is estimated to lose due to the suspension of train traffic?
    And what of the concern that we would see hundreds die within a month? We must demand of those dispensing these projections
    And here is another lesson - we may be presented a scenario where hundreds of Israelis would die of coronavirus in a month's time, but I think we all need to demand from anyone presenting such figures to also present their calculations before we believe them.
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