Shelah: Israel should follow Austria and exit this coronavirus crisis

“Let’s learn from a European country, Austria, which is facing more difficult conditions than us, but is opening up imminently."

Ofer Shelah
MK Ofer Shelah  says that Israel should march to the tune of the "Musical Centre of Europe” when it comes to how we tackle coronavirus.
“Let’s learn from a European country, Austria, which is facing more difficult conditions than us, but is opening up imminently,” the head of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee wrote in a public Facebook post on Thursday.
Austria announced its formal exit strategy on Sunday.
In phase I, which lasts until April 30, stores that are 400 square-meters or smaller will be opened and people will be able to shop, maintaining a maximum number of visitors at any given time. On May 1, the rest of the stores will open.
Hotels and restaurants will stay closed until at least May 15. Students will also continue with a distance learning program until then.
Shelah said that in Austria there is a big focus on wearing masks, social distancing and personal hygiene. Also, people can opt into the digital surveillance program, which Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told the public would help get the country out of the coronavirus crisis earlier.
Israel is considering its exit strategy over Passover, with hopes that some restrictions can be lifted as early as Sunday.
“Can we learn from the Austrian example?” Shelah asked.
Israel and Austria both have populations of around nine million people. The first coronavirus patient was discovered in Austria on February 25, two days before the first patient in Israel. But, Shelah said, the pandemic spread faster in the European country because of the concentration of ski resorts and the difficulty of closing borders of a central European country.
On March 27, there were 7,400 COVID-19 patients in Austria and only 3,500 in Israel, according to Shelah. Some 357 people have died in Austria – more than three times that of Israel.
“Not surprisingly, the [size of the] risk population is much higher: 19% of Austrians are 65 or older, compared to only 11% of us,” he wrote.
Shelah explained that whereas in mid-March the measures being taken in Austria and Israel were similar, the daily increase in Austrian coronavirus patients has been only in single digits. And now, the country has only around 3,000 more total patients than Israel – and almost half of them are recovered.
The coronavirus crisis in Austria has been handled by Kurz, together with his deputy, and the country’s Interior and Health ministers.
Looking at the data, Shelah said Israel already knows what it can learn from Austria: how to balance the needs of the economy and society with the goal of keeping people healthy.
“There needs to be a lot of testing,” Shelah said, noting that Austria does 3,500 more daily tests per million people than Israel. “There needs to be an emphasis on individual behavior and hasbara [explaining].
“It is important to work efficiently and keep calm,” he continued. “All these things we can do – as early as this Sunday.”