Is a night curfew a tired idea? - analysis

Less than 10% of all contacts happen at night, so the maximum drop in R will be 0.1.

Haredim protest against coronavirus lockdown in Jerusalem, July 12, 2020 (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Haredim protest against coronavirus lockdown in Jerusalem, July 12, 2020
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
A night curfew “will do nothing,” former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday afternoon – the day after the coronavirus cabinet voted to implement exactly such a move.
The government was forced to cancel the meeting that was expected to take place on Tuesday night to vote on the details around it and approve it, after Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit reportedly told the cabinet ministers they would have to prove why such a move was correct when all the health experts were against it.
For now, it looks like the government will opt for targeted lockdowns or other restrictions in areas of high infection instead, and at least on Wednesday, there are no new restrictions in place.
Barbash’s above statement on night curfews is reflective of pretty much every health expert across Israel.
“A night curfew will not help much,” tweeted Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science on Tuesday. “At best, it will lower the reproduction rate (R) by 0.05. It will mostly [erode] further the public trust that is worn out anyway.”
He said that less than 10% of all contacts happen at night, so the maximum drop in R would be 0.1.
But these statements should come as no surprise. It was less than a month ago that the current director-general Chezy Levy informed the public that a night curfew alone would only be able to reduce the cases of coronavirus infection by about 5%.
Levy said then in a TV interview that “if you think it will reduce infection, it’s a mistake.”
A night curfew was first raised back in the beginning of September, when the government considered implementing one of 40 red zones across the country. But it was canceled then – and a full closure implemented instead less than two weeks later – after it was determined that such a curfew was not enforceable.
It came back to the table in mid-November, but was again dismissed – this time even by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – when all agreed it wouldn’t work.
So how did the coronavirus cabinet vote to implement a night curfew if they knew already that it would be ineffective? Did something change?
“Nothing changed in the professional, epidemiological recommendation,” stressed Hagai Levine, head of the Public Health Physicians Association. “A night curfew will not change the infection trend. It served as an excuse to open the malls.”
According to Levine, the government had a plan: to implement a night curfew on the one hand and to keep commerce going on the other. However, Levine said that these actions do not balance one another.
“Opening the malls could increase infection during this fragile time,” he told the Post. “A night curfew will not help [lower infection]. It will harm public health and people’s general well-being.”
In the past, Levine equated a night curfew to the government’s attempt to “pull rabbits out of hats.” He said the goal should be preventing dangerous activities and not taking broad, sweeping steps.
“If the dangerous activity is evening gatherings, then one should prevent evening gatherings,” he said, “not preventing the freedom of movement of people who may want to go out for a run in the evening because this is the time that is convenient for them.”
But not everyone agrees. Night curfews found success in Australia, for example. And they have been used in some states in the United States to help curb infection to some benefit.
For example, shortly after a night curfew was implemented in parts of California, California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly told CBS that night curfews are about targeting times when transmission could increase.
“If people are staying at home and not socializing with people outside their household, they drastically reduce their chances of catching or spreading disease,” Brian Labus, an assistant professor in the school of public health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told Healthline.
In Israel, Hebrew University associate professor Doron Gazit admitted to the Post that there was no epidemiological value to the closure, but said there might be a social one. People could understand that the government is serious and better follow the rules.
“It is mainly a statement of the government that something needs to be done because we see the numbers rising every day and the situation itself is not that good,” Gazit said.
He said that, as described by the US professionals, it could reduce the opportunity for new cases because during Hanukkah people tend to gather and sing together in indoor spaces with the windows closed.
“This is a recipe for a super-spreading event,” he said.
Gazit said if the option was doing nothing or a night closure it was better than nothing. But he said that if the government could simply step up enforcement against mass gatherings and convince the public of social distancing and wearing masks, “this plague would be over.”
Levine said that the decision to go to a night curfew could be the first step toward a third lockdown.
“The decision makers are fixed on lockdowns and night curfews, and no matter what the data shows or what the needs are of the Israeli people, that is their plan – regardless of the damage and the cost on Israeli health, economy or society,” Levine said. “They panicked and they only saw one solution.”
Levine added that the next lockdown is not likely to be based on infection but politics: “A third lockdown is a complete political decision regardless of the data, so I cannot predict what the government will decide and when.”
For now, at least, what is more likely to happen is what Gazit described as correct: targeted lockdowns and testing.
Will a night curfew stay off the table or is it likely to come back again?
“I have nothing to do but to hope that the government changes its way and listens to professional experts and not some other agenda,” Levine said. “The Israeli people deserve better; they deserve professional decisions.
“Public health does not exist without the public.”