Israel has done extraordinarily well in preventing the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. It reports only 37 deaths per one million people (342 deaths in total). By way of comparison, the U.S. reports 405 deaths per million. Only Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, and Hawaii report fewer deaths per million than Israel.
Israel’s success is probably due to the stringent measures it took early on to keep the virus from spreading. They included travel restrictions and a lockdown more severe than all of the ones I’m aware of in the U.S.
For example, in February, one of my wife’s Israeli cousins planned a trip to Paris to be with her daughter-in-law, who was recovering from surgery. She was informed that if she took this trip, she would have to go into isolation when she returned. She agreed to this condition and, upon returning, spent 14 days isolated in her apartment. Her husband moved out during this period.
By early May, there were fewer than 20 reported coronavirus infections per day. Deaths from the virus exceeded five on only one day during the entire month.
But in late June, Israel began to experience a second wave of the virus. The number of new cases per day reached 1,000 at the end of the month. Yesterday, there were 1,500 new reported cases.
The daily death count also began to climb, as might be expected. Yesterday, there were eight reported deaths from the virus, the most since mid-April.
Professor Sigal Sadetsky, head of Public Health at Israel’s Health Ministry, has resigned in protest over what she calls “frivolous, unsubstantiated and populist decision-making” in response to the second wave of the coronavirus. She stated:
The [coronavirus] is a deadly, cunning and agile epidemic. I feel with a high-level of certainty… that the coming months will be difficult and even tragic.
Her grievances with the government’s response include a critique of school openings:
Opening the education system first in a limited way and two weeks later in a sweeping way… led to widespread reinfection in Israel. Maintaining educational frameworks plays a major role in the ability to safeguard the economy and their importance to our children. However, in the absence of conformity to corona regulations, schools and kindergartens become fertile grounds for infection.
Israel opened the education system too quickly compared with most countries in the world. Without compatible conditions, education systems cannot be opened.
This statement is in line with her general criticism that Israel reopened too quickly and not incrementally enough.
Israel is now re-imposing restrictions, albeit not as quickly and as comprehensively as Prof. Sadetsky wanted. According to this report, they are as follows:
> Event halls, clubs and bars – closed
> Restaurants – up to 20 patrons inside, up to 30 outside
> Gyms and public pools – closed
> Cultural performances – closed
> Hotels and tourist sites – clubs and bars are closed, hotel restaurants can seat up to 20 patrons inside
> Synagogues – up to 19 people
> Other gatherings – up to 20 people, two meters apart with masks
> Organized sporting events – without fans (no change)
> Summer camps and youth activities – Only preschool through fourth grade to run; government authorizes the education minister to make decisions on educational activities for fifth graders and up in consultation with the higher education minister
> Buses – up to 20 people per bus; the government agrees to allow the transportation minister to decide on another number in collaboration with the health minister and National Security Council
> Government office employees – 30% required to work from home
The government has also announced that the ultra-Orthodox town of Beitar Illit is now a “restricted zone” and will remain so for seven days. This town reported 51 new cases in the last three days.
Unlike Israel, the U.S. never really finished its first wave of the coronavirus. But even if we had, the Israeli experience shows that we wouldn’t have been out of the woods. Indeed, a number of states that, like Israel, came through March-May in pretty good shape, are now plagued by outbreaks of the virus.
Nonetheless, an economy can’t remain locked down indefinitely. It will be interesting to see what Israel does if the restrictions it has reimposed — which aren’t nearly as stringent as the original ones — aren’t effective in promptly bringing the virus under something resembling control.
Meanwhile, we should all be rooting hard for an effective vaccine.