The coronavirus crisis is one of the gravest crises that humanity has experienced since the end of World War II. By mid-April 2020, more than 2.2 million people had been infected with the virus and roughly 150,000 had died of it. The severity of the crisis is not only due to the number of people who have been infected and passed away, but also to the economic consequences of the outbreak, as world stock exchanges have fallen by 30% and many people have lost their jobs.
Yet, as many states securitized the coronavirus – labeling it as a security threat and executing extraordinary measures to confront the epidemic – this process was different in each country both in terms of the time it took for each leadership to realize that the virus posed a security threat and of the extraordinary measures taken to curb the spread of the virus in the local population.
In Germany and Italy, only after the first death in the country had occurred, the various leaderships began to realize that the coronavirus poses a security threat. In Germany, when the country's first case of infection was discovered on January 27, the government believed that there was a very low likelihood that the virus would spread there.
In this context, German Health Minister Jens Spahn stated that the government took the issue very seriously and that there was no reason for the German public to panic. Moreover, Berlin felt that there was no need to take substantial steps to combat the spread of the virus, such as closing borders and banning flights between Germany and China, measures that Spahn called disproportionate and inappropriate.
In Italy, after the first cases of death had occurred, the government immediately imposed the extraordinary measures of soft curfew, first in hot zones, and within 18 days on the entire country. In Germany, however, extraordinary measures, from closing schools to soft curfew, were gradually executed and in the shorter time of 13 days.
In the United States, even after the first fatality was registered in the country, the Trump administration did not perceive that the coronavirus posed a security threat for the American people. In that context, President Donald Trump tweeted on March 9 that although the common flu kills tens of thousands every year, nothing is shut down, and life and the economy go on.
Yet, while the federal government refrained from imposing a soft curfew – although the administration did order a ban on entry from "hot" countries and ordered American citizens returning from them to enter domestic isolation even before the first fatality was registered in a state – various US states began to impose a soft curfew on their residents just 19 days after the first US death was recorded.
In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the government thought that the coronavirus constituted a security threat long before the country's first fatality (24 days). Nevertheless, the British government delayed and refrained from taking any extraordinary measures, and it was only 11 days after that first fatality was registered that the UK gradually began to implement extraordinary measures, from shutting down schools to imposing a soft curfew, a process that lasted 18 days.
ONLY IN Israel, compared to the four countries mentioned above, did the government begin to view the coronavirus as a security threat before it even registered a case of corona infection in the country – 28 days before. Thus, the Israeli government started implementing measures, such as imposing home isolation for returnees from "hot" countries.
Moreover, just 11 days after the first case of infection had been discovered in Israel, and even before the first death from the virus occurred in the country, the Israeli government began to implement extraordinary measures in a gradual but swift manner.
Thus, within only eight days, the Israeli government decided to impose domestic isolation on all Israelis returning from abroad; close educational institutions and places of entertainment; use technological means to track corona patients; and finally, impose a soft curfew on the entire Israeli public. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in mid-March, "these extraordinary measures have not been executed since the establishment of the state – however, there has been no such epidemic since the establishment of the state and in the last 100 years."
In conclusion, there is no doubt that compared to Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States – each a G7 member – Israel was better able to understand that the coronavirus constitutes a security threat and to quickly carry out extraordinary measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the country. Thus, Israel's "security oriented" character was a substantial advantage against the coronavirus, causing the number of casualties in the country to be significantly lower than other Western countries.
In that respect, as of mid-April, while the fatality rate from the coronavirus is 49 people per million in Germany, 105 in the United States, 215 in the United Kingdom and 367 in Italy, the number in Israel is "only" 17 per million. Hence, it is not surprising that during the current crisis, many people around the world would have preferred to be in Israel, a country that knows how to handle security challenges – probably better than any other country.
In essence, the Israeli government headed by Netanyahu, along with the Israeli health system, deserve all the complements for coping against the coronavirus. The citizens of Israel have great cause for pride!
Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales.
Christian Kaunert is a Professor of Policing and Security, Director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at University of South Wales, and Jean Monnet Chair of EU counter-terrorism.