Photo: Nitzan Dror
Young women wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport

Israel's pandemic awareness campaign spreads nothing but fear

Opinion: The government has failed in its COVID-19 awareness campaign, perpetuating hopelessness instead of explaining to the public that even the harshest restrictions won't be in place for long, since a vaccine is only months away

Sever Plocker |
Published: 08.02.20 , 23:40
Some 90 percent of Israelis now wear face masks in public, similarly to places like Taiwan, Singapore, and the Czech Republic.
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  • That is a good, but the difference is that nations around the world promote the need to use masks as part of wide-spread, multi-million coronavirus awareness campaigns, often enlisting the help of celebrities to spread the message, broadcasting public service announcements and erecting billboards. The Israeli government takes no such action.
    נתב"גנתב"ג
    Young women wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport
    (Photo: EPA)
    Some ministers and public figures have taken upon themselves to urge Israelis to protect themselves and others by using face masks or threatened large fine - which no one intends to pay - but that is all. It is the Israeli public that is to be commended for its responsible behavior and self-discipline.
    But the government's problems in conveying the message lie not only in the absence of tools and platforms. The problem is the message itself.
    Our leaders have forgotten what it means to convey a message and got advocacy and fearmongering all mixed up.
    The fight against the coronavirus will end when a vaccine becomes available for mass use, or when a cure is found. The projected date is four to seven months away.
    מעבדה של נגיף הקורונה ברחובותמעבדה של נגיף הקורונה ברחובות
    A coronavirus testing lab
    (Photo: AFP)
    Scientists around the world already know infinitely more about the virus than any fighting army knows about its enemy, the message therefore, should be not of fear but of hope.
    It should battle the public's despair and cultivate its will to survive because the disease will be eradicated, or at least diminished as a threat no greater than the common flu, and will be disarmed by a simple shot that can be given annually.
    Economists understand that, which is why they urge governments to allocate vast sums of money to help the population adversely affected by the crisis. With an expiration date for the pandemic, be it a year away or even a bit longer, all necessary steps to assist people in their struggles are legitimate and even vital, so that society and economy can survive with minimal damage.
    The public is not swayed by mathematical and epidemiological models. It responds to the messages emanating from its leaders.
    Only two months ago, the Israeli government decided to lift almost all restrictions on the economy: the education system and social events (culture industry was excluded, though no one could explain why). They even gave the public a pass from wearing masks during a heatwave. Three weeks later, the pandemic had resurged, but it still took the government weeks to understand a second wave was upon us and restrictions needed to be re-imposed.
    The problem is that the leadership had no clear understanding of what restrictions were needed, based on clear scientific and professional parameters. Politics was the determining factor and chaos ensued.
    מחלקת קורונה בית חולים שיבא תל השומרמחלקת קורונה בית חולים שיבא תל השומר
    A coronavirus ward at the Sheba Medical Center
    (Photo: AFP)
    It was early July before the government understood it has reopened the economy too quickly. Israel paid with hundreds of virus deaths, the U.S. saw hundreds of thousands. In Europe, the cost was in the thousands.
    Still, Israeli ministers did not appear to internalize the scope of the problem. While Israel is experiencing one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the world, some are already arguing more restrictions should be lifted, claiming the pandemic is under control.
    And while this government is content with a daily caseload 2,000 patients, the public thinks health directives could be ignored. Fewer people wear masks, fewer maintain social distancing and many more behave irresponsibly as they congregate in crowds.
    And why shouldn't they if nobody in our government bothers to explain the abnormal rate of virus tests that return positive or the spike in mortality.
    Now is the time for those in power to relay to the public that the end of the crisis is near. And if they do impose restrictions - even the harshest and most extreme - they would not be in place for long. There is real hope that a solution is within reach and with a bit more patience we will all see the pandemic defeated.
    Awareness campaign now is as important as ever, especially if it disseminates hope.
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