Nadav Eyal
Nadav Eyal
A coronavirus testing facility in Tel Aviv

Even with a mass COVID infection model, Israel still needs a plan

Opinion: Despite what some may think, government's current pandemic policies weren't reached without discussions, and are a result of a calculation of risks; but leaders must not relinquish responsibility for public's safety

Nadav Eyal |
Published: 01.09.22, 23:38
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government is now facing its biggest challenge yet. Millions of Israelis have been left confused about the government's pandemic policies, which appear to be based on the principle of having zero restrictions.
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  • Contrary to how most of the world is dealing with the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Israel has decided to adopt the British model that saw 150,000 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    מתחם בדיקות קורונה, הבימה תל אביב
    מתחם בדיקות קורונה, הבימה תל אביב
    A coronavirus testing facility in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
    Despite what some may think, this decision was not made without forethought. Like the UK, a sizeable chunk of Israel's population is vaccinated with the booster shot. But contrary to Britain, our population is much younger.
    The government has decided to take a calculated risk that assumes the rise in cases will not cause the health system to collapse. They may very well be proven right, but Israelis assumed that if the country adopts a model of mass infection, ministers would at least have some sort of plan in place alongside it.
    What are we going to do with classes where 50% of students are sick, a third quarantined and the rest still told to attend in person learning? Nobody knows.
    Are there long queues for a PCR test? No problem. Let's prevent Israelis under the age of 60 from taking them. We are the only country in the West to do so.
    Are there still massive lines of people at facilities offering the rapid antigen test? Not a problem. Do we help them by adding more manpower? Don't be silly.
    4 צפייה בגלריה
    עומס במתחם בדיקות בתל אביב
    עומס במתחם בדיקות בתל אביב
    Long queues at a coronavirus testing facility in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
    Each one of these centers looks like the opening of the first McDonald's restaurant in the Soviet Union at Moscow's Red Square 30 years ago. Those people back then at least had hope, while we, here, have to make do with frustration.
    Frustration for young parents who have to go to work and for responsible citizens who don't want to infect their parents, but cannot find a home-testing kit at any pharmacy, and when they do, the kits are exorbitantly priced.
    While the whole world is struggling to keep up with the Omicron variant, at no point did any country decide that the rapid tests, with their questionable accuracy, should be the main tool in the fight against the pandemic.
    Someone in the government, took advantage of the media reports about huge queues of Israelis waiting for a PCR test, so they made them unavailable to most people because they are expensive to perform, and sent citizens home to subsidize the home test business. Now they realize that the whole business is not working.
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    People, some wearing protective face masks, line up for PCR and Rapid Antigen COVID-19 coronavirus tests in Tel Aviv
    People, some wearing protective face masks, line up for PCR and Rapid Antigen COVID-19 coronavirus tests in Tel Aviv
    People, some wearing protective face masks, line up for PCR coronavirus tests in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: AP)
    One health expert after another told the government to stop this madness. Limit some of the mass gatherings and try to slow the infection rate, not just to protect hospitals, but simply to avoid further damage to the economy.
    The government and the hospitals are coming up with new ideas, suggesting that doctors should continue to work even if they were confirmed to have been infected with coronavirus.
    How can the virus not spread through the hospital to the inpatient ward and kill the 80+-year-old patient being treated there? How can the oncology patient not be infected?
    The Omicron variant certainly requires a paradigm shift. It is possible that there is no escape, and everyone will be infected eventually.
    But the government must make sure that the country continues to function, as well as protect the weak, immunocompromised, the elderly and others at risk.
    Do these people have a hotline in case they need to leave their homes but don't want to run the risk of getting infected? Is anyone helping them with their groceries? Did the government send them N95 facemasks to reduce the risk of getting infected when they go to the supermarket?
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    מחלקת קורונה בבילינסון
    מחלקת קורונה בבילינסון
    Rabin Medical Center's coronavirus ward
    (Photo: Rabin Medical Center)
    A day ago, I received a message from my child's school. The principal was worried that she had been infected, but the antigen test showed a negative result. She requested a PCR test to be performed so as not to infect the teaching staff and shut down the school. The Health Ministry refused her request because she was not yet 60 years old. What nonsense.
    In the end, one can hope and assume that the current infection wave will not end in disaster like the previous ones, and that mortality and hospitalizations will be lower. But until then, there is still a country to run here and urgent action is needed.
    The government and the coronavirus cabinet did not meet at all to discuss the change in the testing policy, future scenarios, or supplies.
    The Prime Minister's Office worked hard to bring Pfizer's anti-COVID pill and examine the various types of rapid tests so that the more accurate brands will be available in stores, and that's nice. But the big, logistical preparations were left to chance, and to the different ministries to figure out.
    Israel's leaders must grab a hold of themselves and act before it's too late.

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