Panel discussion: To stop coronavirus, get mayors involved

Haifa U. panel focuses on political challenges and municipal opportunities in war on COVID-19

POLICE STOP cars at a roadblock at the entrance to Jerusalem on October 4, amid the lockdown (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
POLICE STOP cars at a roadblock at the entrance to Jerusalem on October 4, amid the lockdown
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
The coronavirus pandemic has posed multiple challenges to the world, many of which are not health-related, according to participants in a roundtable at the University of Haifa on Tuesday. Israelis are willing to trust professionals and official bodies but have little faith in their politicians, they said.
Part of the reason Israel is struggling to manage the pandemic is that it does not have a law to deal with national emergencies, such as floods and earthquakes, Prof. Eli Salzberger said. The failure to enact one is because lawmakers have not decided whether emergencies should be managed by IDF Home Front Command, the National Emergency Management Authority or both, he said.
Salzberger cited the UK, where the Civil Contingencies Act has been in place since 2014, yet the government did not use it to deal with COVID-19 and instead passed a special law.
The panelists presented data that showed 69% of Israelis have confidence in the healthcare system, 57% trust the police, and 34% have faith in the government.
Representatives of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab sectors, which have suffered high infection rates, also participated in the discussion.
Arab-Israelis were willing to comply with the lockdown and other health regulations in the spring when they were fearful of COVID-19, Kafr Kassem Mayor Abdel Badir said. But after the successful handling of the first wave, the sector mistakenly thought the worst was behind them, he said.
Arabs also began to experience “pandemic fatigue,” which led them to resume attending large weddings and other public gatherings, he added.
Kafr Kassem is now a green town, and cooperation between the government and local authorities is “the key to success,” as “only those who live among the people know them,” Badir said.
Kiryat Ye’arim Mayor Yitzhak Ravitz expressed similar sentiments, saying Health Ministry officials cannot know his community and what it needs as well as he does.
“Let’s say a man was infected during morning prayers,” he said, “I know enough to ask this man, Which morning prayer? Where in the synagogue did you stand? I know that the building he was in has two entrances and that there are prayer groups at different hours, so I can know very quickly with whom this man came into contact and can thereby stop the chain of infection.
“This is something the government can’t do,” Ravitz said. “I consider myself as one arm of the government in that sense.”
The panel was held on October 13 to mark UN Disaster Risk Reduction Day.