Israel's coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu told lawmakers Monday that finding asymptomatic patients is the key to stopping the pandemic and that he would test every single person in the country for COVID-19 if it were feasible.
"During the second lockdown, with an exhausted populace, we managed to bring down the R number (the number of people one virus carrier can infect) to 0.6," Gamzu told the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
"This is a great success. If I could, I would have tested every single Israeli, found every asymptomatic virus carrier and stopped this pandemic," he said.
According to Gamzu, virus carriers are normally incentivized to get tested when they show symptoms, but this does not include those who do not have any signs of infection.
"When the contagion rate goes down, the desire and need [for testing] goes down with it. It is a constant state of war," he said. "The coronavirus is defeated by finding asymptomatic virus carriers, they are the ones still spreading the disease."
He also noted that young people are the main driver for the pandemic, and they are more likely to be asymptomatic and less prone to needing emergency treatment.
"They pass the disease to older people, who could become very ill and need hospitalization, and who could also die from it," Gamzu said.
"There is no way to prevent the spread caused by young people. This is why we must work hard to halt the infection among [this demographic]."
The coronavirus czar also said that Israel should wait to reopen schools and do so in a careful and logical manner. The reopening of schools is believed to have been a major factor in Israel's soaring morbidity that triggered the second lockdown.
"On July 15, we had 1,500-1,700 daily cases and about 300 patients in serious condition. The system was stable and we even lifted more restrictions in an effort to bring some normalcy back. The serious rise in morbidity started around September 1 [when the schools reopened]," he said.
Regarding his "traffic light" plan, which called for targeted lockdowns in virus hot spots, Gamzu said that there was not enough time to fully implement the outline as it had only been approved on August 30.
"The plan was to serve as an alternative to an ineffective national handling of the pandemic," he said.
Asked about the government's decision to reopen kindergartens in "red" virus hot spots, which are predominantly ultra-Orthodox, Gamzu confirmed that this was a risk, but said "we approved this measure in coordination with Haredi representatives."
"I want to stress that the reopening of kindergartens is not carte blanche to reopen the rest of the education system," he said. "It is not approved and reopening classes for older students poses not only a health threat but is also illegal."
He added that reopening schools could cause renewed outbreaks and bring back restrictions to communities that took such a step.