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Israel’s last chance to defeat the outbreak without lockdowns

All must do their part so we can reduce infection rates without exacting a heavy price from the public. We deserve to get back to our normal lives as soon as possible.

Then-Director-General of Israel's Health Ministry professor Ronni Gamzu attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Flash90.
Then-Director-General of Israel's Health Ministry professor Ronni Gamzu attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Flash90.
Ronni Gamzu
Ronni Gamzu

About two weeks ago, I accepted the responsibility of heading the effort to reduce coronavirus morbidity in Israel. Many had warned me beforehand that the Israeli public would not cooperate, that politicians would constantly interfere with my work, and that I should demand that my jurisdiction over the matter be outlined in writing.

I was glad to learn that these fears have been disproved, and I find that everyone is cooperating with me in full. But I am first and foremost proud of the public’s response and cooperation.

For the past two weeks, I have been trying my best to lower the coronavirus attack rate—the number of people infected by a single confirmed carrier—to below one, thus reducing morbidity without imposing a lockdown.

It is important to note that no country has tried to counter this kind of morbidity rate without shutting down public activity. Not even Sweden, where morbidity rates are lower than Israel’s but COVID-19 mortality is far greater.

By following and observing the Health Ministry’s directives, the public has been able to see the daily tally of confirmed coronavirus cases stabilize at 1,500-2,000 cases. But getting that number down to a few hundred cases requires greater effort, and without all of us making this effort we simply won’t be able to do it.

This endeavor is likely to take several weeks and it will prevent a lockdown, but it requires all of us to observe directives very carefully.

I strive, against all odds, to reduce morbidity without imposing a lockdown, while encouraging the public’s cooperation and increasing its confidence; by integrating the IDF’s amazing capabilities to train thousands of people to conduct rapid, in-depth and advanced epidemiological investigations; by focusing on cities with high morbidity rather than shutting them down and giving local authorities the necessary responsibility, and be increasing municipal and police enforcement.

The rationale that drives me is humane and simple: instead of ordering a top-to-bottom lockdown, encouraging order for the bottom up.

The public has to have the confidence that this can succeed, because this is the only way for us to defeat the coronavirus. In order to succeed, every sector in society must do its part—give a little for the country’s sake.

The Arab sector must take control of the epidemic in Arab townships. It must comply with social distancing directived and forgo large parties.

The ultra-Orthodox sector and its leaders, spiritual and political alike, must speak out and demand that the mass gatherings and celebrations held in clear violation of coronavirus directives stop because they mean the loss of human life.

The general public must serve as an example for full compliance with Health Ministry directives. I pledge to ensure they remain logical and fair to all sectors, taking into consideration their various needs.

As for the protests taking place nationwide: such rallies are the heart and soul of democracy and every Israeli seeking to protest can go out and do so. But while the coronavirus outbreak is raging protesters must be cautious—wear face masks properly and observe social distancing as the locations allow.

Every gathering, legal or illegal, bears the potential to cause mass infections. The coronavirus does not differentiate between a wedding and a demonstration.

The politicians on the right and left who, despite the occasional jab, have faith in me, must continue to place reducing morbidity and economic recovery as a top priority.

All the politicians I spoke to this week, including the prime minister, are reluctant to impose a lockdown. They understand the socio-economic impact and the ongoing economic damage, but they fear what not taking the proper steps against this disease will do to our national resilience and global standing.

This is a wake-up call to the Israeli public. Let’s make the effort and defeat the coronavirus. We deserve to get back to our normal lives as soon as possible.

Professor Ronni Gamzu is Israel’s Coronavirus Project Coordinator.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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