Nadav Eyal
Nadav Eyal
Photo: IBA
Israeli children returning to school amid the pandemic

Israel's coronavirus closure failed and now the clock is ticking

Opinion: The resurgence caused by reopening schools shows there is no coexisting with this pathogen; the government must act quickly, using all its high-tech and defense capabilities to stop the pandemic before it spreads further

Nadav Eyal |
Published: 06.22.20 , 00:00
There was one precise moment when Israel decided to conduct a rare multifaceted experiment and become world's leader in leaving lockdown in the fastest and most extreme way possible.
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  • This was the moment when small teaching groups were suddenly cancelled and all students from kindergarten to 12th grade were told to return to school - all without so much as a good luck.
    חזרה ללימודים בבית הספר גבריאלי בתל אביבחזרה ללימודים בבית הספר גבריאלי בתל אביב
    Israeli children returning to school amid the pandemic
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    Was this because of the economic damage caused by the partial paralysis of the education system? Not really. After all, high and junior high school students can stay home and study remotely while their parents return to work.
    No, the speedy decision to return get everyone back to class was a classic example of Israeli strategic thinking: A touch of data, a wave of public pressure, a dash of populism and two teaspoons of haste and improvisation.
    And what happened next? Outbreaks started in schools, followed by outbreaks out of schools. And in recent days, we have seen outbreaks in nursing and retirement homes too. Because we all go to see our grandparents.
    And we all follow regulations, of course we do. Except when the mask isn't really necessary or when one hug couldn't possibly do any harm.
    The sense of freedom here is wonderful, a foreign diplomat told me last week, "but I’m not so sure it works well with pandemics."
    That was a pretty diplomatic statement.
    מתחם היבדק וסע לבדיקות קורונה בתל אביבמתחם היבדק וסע לבדיקות קורונה בתל אביב
    A coronavirus testing site in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Nitzan Dror)
    Israel is undoubtedly experiencing another outbreak. Nobody seems to know whether it is a second wave or not, but the name we give it doesn't really matter anyway.
    The disease, if not stopped, will continue to spread among us. And given that the over-60s don't exist in a bubble, widespread infection will hit them too.
    And here is an important point that is sometimes missed in the ocean of fake news and pseudo-science in which the media is drowning: The pandemic should and must be stopped.
    The various experts who appear on our screens are filled to the brim with criticism, selective data and half-truths. But they actually only have one thing in common - they have never had any professional training in or published anything on the spread of a pandemic.
    Their criticism was so intense and corrosive that it washed away basic truths: We are not immune to the virus and we don't know enough about it.
    Most experts around the world, including those at the World Health Organization, are firm in their conviction that the rate of infection must be reduced and suppressed. Because the risk is too great.
    מודדים חום ב כניסה למסעדה ב תל אביב ישראל נגיף קורונה הקורונהמודדים חום ב כניסה למסעדה ב תל אביב ישראל נגיף קורונה הקורונה
    Restaurants and bars across Israel recently reopened despite the pandemic
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Since the first wave hit, we have come to know more about the virus.
    We know that there is a chance vaccines will not be sufficiently effective.
    We know that there are people who are infected but show no symptoms even as their lungs experience a decline in function.
    We know about a virus-related syndrome that affects children and as rare as it is, during a widespread infection it can pose a problem.
    We know that even those who recover from a "mild” bout of COVID-19 can suffer from poor physical condition for weeks and maybe longer.
    We know that mortality rate is between 0.5% and 1% overall, but the greater problem is that the virus is highly contagious.
    For all these reasons and many more, the experts don't believe it is possible to "live alongside" a widespread outbreak of the virus.
    תל אביבתל אביב
    A newly reopened restaurant in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    To fight it, we will be essentially be emptying a bucket with a spoon, every day. We have to understand that there will be more infections, but we must ensure the rate remains low and is never allowed to run rampant.
    This is where Israel has failed in recent weeks. And no, it's not (mostly) due to public behavior.
    This one is on the government. What exactly has it been doing for the past six weeks? Where is the might of the state of emergency or the wonders of the high-tech country that is Israel?
    Where is the swarming of every case, isolating each and every loose end, effective digital warfare, epidemiological investigations?
    At this point, and in light of the understandable public dislike for the closure, one would expect the government to have set up a national project that would have turned Israel into a world leader in the fight against the coronavirus - and make it virus-free like New Zealand.
     Hospital staff conduct coronavirus testing at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon  Hospital staff conduct coronavirus testing at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon
    Hospital staff conduct coronavirus testing at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon
    (Photo: AFP)
    The closure was a dangerous failure. In order to avoid its return, Israel must act quickly and establish swift, centralized and responsible systems to ensure that any current and future outbreaks are stopped in their tracks.
    It is entirely possible. This outbreak does not have to turn into a second wave. We can stop it if we want.
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