Does Israel need a coronavirus lockdown? And if so, when?

As of Tuesday afternoon, Galilee Medical Center was reporting that its coronavirus ward was 127% full and Laniado Hospital 117%.

Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop for grocery at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose restrictions to halt the spread of the virus (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israelis, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop for grocery at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on July 14, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases bringing the authorities to reimpose restrictions to halt the spread of the virus
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The number of serious COVID-19 patients in Israel rose above 400 on Tuesday, putting the country’s hospitals at risk of being unable to serve its population. Now, Israeli leaders - including coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu - are murmuring about another lockdown.
Does Israel need a coronavirus closure?
Prof. Zeev Rotstein, the head of Hadassah Medical Center, said that while he is against locking down, he feels that Israel is not succeeding at stopping the spread of the virus. He said that as the number of infected people, including people with severe cases of COVID-19, increases, “we might have to lock down.”
However, to make the decision about whether or not to close, Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, said that “there are several considerations to balance.”
The first is hospitals’ ability to treat sick patients.
According to Leshem, the health system has been in a “war of attrition” since the start of the pandemic and nothing has yet been done to increase capacity or relieve the load.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Galilee Medical Center was reporting that its coronavirus ward was 127% full and Laniado Hospital 117%. Almost all the other major hospitals showed that they were at 80% to 95% capacity.
“They are running out of resources,” Leshem said. “It would take a sneeze and the whole system would collapse. We don’t have the capacity to treat that many patients for that long.”
He said he expects that if schools open as planned on Sept. 1 and the High Holy Days go on with gatherings at synagogues and homes, then Israel could see dozens if not hundreds more serious patients two weeks later.
Rotstein expressed a similar sentiment. He said that the Health Ministry had not publicly shared a plan to test teachers and other school staffers to verify there are no sick people in schools. As such, he fears “we are going to repeat what happened at the Gymnasia Rehavia only three months ago,” when more than 100 people contacted coronavirus after one teacher brought it into the school.
“We will not have the ability to provide the best treatment to every patient,” Leshem said.
On the other hand, Leshem said that a lockdown conducted during work time “has a huge impact on the economy.” As such, if Israel does need to lock down, despite the current growth in the number of serious patients, it would be best to wait until Rosh Hashanah.
New studies are starting to show that severe economic hardship is causing people in Israel and internationally to suffer from emotional distress, stress and anxiety. Moreover, mental health professionals in Israel and abroad are saying they expect the number of suicides to increase as a result of the pandemic.
“Lock down during the holidays or even just the High Holy Days feels like a reasonable option,” Leshem told The Jerusalem Post. “And if we don’t do it, we might find ourselves two weeks after Rosh Hashanah with grandparents - hundreds of grandparents - who were infected during Rosh Hashanah dinners. We cannot handle that.”
Although he said there could be alternatives to locking down, such as increasing communication with the public and encouraging citizens not to gather in large groups or host their elderly parents, “unfortunately, this has not worked with previous episodes.”
Leshem also said that a middle ground might be a “breathing lockdown,” where freedom of movement is not prevented but synagogues and other places of gathering are closed.
In this situation, he said, families could be encouraged not to host their elderly relatives and, if they do, they would know that they are doing it at their own risk.
Rotstein said that after a year in which families celebrated Passover over Zoom, “it would be for me a sad sign if a lockdown is announced just before the High Holidays.”
He also stressed that “no one is getting healthy from a lockdown” if when the closure is lifted Israel still lacks the capability to test, trace and isolate - the only known effective method for living alongside the coronavirus.


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