It’s time for health authorities in Israel and abroad to stop vilifying the medical experts who’ve been issuing a reassuring message as to where the coronavirus pandemic is headed. At this point, with so many people contracting the Omicron variant of COVID-19—among them recovered patients, the fully vaccinated, the double-boosted and a combination of the three—there’s enough anecdotal evidence from every corner of the globe to suggest that the mutation is weak.
Indeed, most of those recently or currently infected report having cold-like symptoms that last for less than a week. This hasn’t prevented the Health Ministry and “coronavirus cabinet” from behaving as though there’s an upswing in an unmanageable crisis, warranting endless meetings and fights over restrictive measures. That none of these has worked where curbing the spread of the microbe is concerned doesn’t seem to register.
What does appear to be effective—other than the inescapable presumption that we’re finally heading towards herd immunity—is a drug that the Maccabi Health Services HMO has begun administering to COVID patients.
According to a report on Monday by the health fund, 92 percent of those given Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill showed improvement within three days, and some 60 percent said that they felt relief within 24 hours.
One symptom of the pandemic that nothing has been able to alleviate, however, is pig-headedness. Any doctor who doesn’t toe the going ideological line at a given moment is attacked for being irresponsible or, worse, for causing the death of innocent people.
It is thus that Professor Idit Matot—director of surgery and chair of the department of anesthesiology, intensive care and pain at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital)—was bashed by the Israeli Health Ministry this weekend for daring to challenge its COVID policies in an op-ed on the Walla! news site, no less.
In her piece—“The unnecessary fear of Omicron has dragged the country to the brink of collapse”—Matot wrote that the variant “cannot be compared to previous strains, such as the Alpha and Delta, which caused prolonged and severe illness that led to fatal lung damage, often requiring ventilators and sometimes the use of ECMO. That was then. Not now. Not with Omicron … which is highly contagious, but with minimal ability to cause damage. As evidence, we have no Omicron patients in Ichilov on respirators. Not even one! Nor is there an ECMO problem as there was in the past, because there is simply no need for it.”
She went on to assert that what there actually is right now, as every year, are patients with serious cases of the flu filling the hospitals, but “they’re not counted or reported on.”
Influenza, she stressed, “is a disease with no public relations. But it’s deadly.”
As if this weren’t nervy enough, she had the gall to expose what many of us have already figured out: that the “vast majority of patients hospitalized with COVID today are not hospitalized because of COVID!”
The misconception that coronavirus caused the serious illnesses that have been at the root of the bulk of hospitalizations “presents a false picture … and creates anxiety [that] leads to problematic managerial decisions,” Matot concluded.
Within hours, the Health Ministry not only accused her of public endangerment, but attributed her article to a “lust for publicity” and blasted Ichilov for posting parts of the piece on the hospital’s Twitter page.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. You know, considering that the pandemic has elevated every previously anonymous health official to celebrity status—with prime-time TV appearances practically surpassing those of the “Fauda” cast.
One peer of Matot’s, with a greater claim to virus expertise than hers and certainly than those on the government payroll, was not among her detractors. Professor Udi Qimron, of the clinical microbiology and immunology department at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine of Tel Aviv University, has been even more brutal than she about the coronavirus-policy farce.
In an open letter to the Health Ministry on Jan. 6 on the Channel 12 News site, which has been circulating far and wide in various languages, Qimron stated: “It’s time to admit failure.”
“In the end, the truth will always be revealed, and the truth about the coronavirus policy is beginning to be revealed,” he declared. “When the destructive concepts collapse one by one, there is nothing left but to tell the experts who led the management of the pandemic, ‘We told you so.’ ”
He went on to say, “Two years late, you finally realize that a respiratory virus cannot be defeated, and that any such attempt is doomed to fail … and even the media is already having a hard time covering your shame.
“You refused to admit that the infection comes in waves that fade by themselves, despite years of observations and scientific knowledge. You insisted on attributing every decline of a wave solely to your actions, and so, through false propaganda, you ‘overcame the plague.’ And again you defeated it, and again and again and again.
“You refused to admit that mass testing is ineffective, despite your own contingency plans explicitly stating so. … You refused to admit that recovery is more protective than a vaccine, despite previous knowledge and observations showing that non-recovered vaccinated people are more likely to be infected than recovered people. You refused to admit that the vaccinated are contagious despite the observations. Based on this, you hoped to achieve herd immunity by vaccination, and you failed in that, as well.
“You insisted on ignoring that the disease is dozens of times more dangerous for risk groups and older adults than for young people … [F]rom the heights of your hubris, you have also ignored the fact that … you have burned hundreds of billions of shekels to no avail [for] … ineffective tests, for destructive lockdowns and for disrupting the routine of life. … You have destroyed the education of our children and their future, [making them] feel guilty, scared, smoke, drink, get addicted, drop out and quarrel. … You have harmed livelihoods, the economy, human rights, mental health and physical health. You slandered colleagues who did not surrender to you.”
He concluded: “There is currently no medical emergency, but you have been cultivating such a condition [out of a] of lust for power, budgets and control.” This, he said, is the “real emergency” that needs confronting.
It’s hard to argue with that, though the health tyrants are engaged in a tireless effort to do so.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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