Israel’s actions against coronavirus: Radical or responsible? – analysis

This coronavirus is highly infectious and likely even much more contagious than seasonal flu.

Coronavirus quarantine ward at Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Coronavirus quarantine ward at Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan
The novel coronavirus causes the highly infectious COVID-19 disease and its spread should be seen as a public health emergency. Therefore, the measures being taken by the Health Ministry should be seen as responsible and not radical, medical professionals explained to The Jerusalem Post.
“I don’t think Israel’s actions are out of proportion,” Dr. Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, said Sunday.
What do we know about COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019)?
The “corona” in coronavirus, according to, refers to the characteristic crown- or halo-like appearance of sugary proteins protruding from the virus. The current virulent coronavirus (SARS, MERS and even the common cold are also caused by coronaviruses) is highly infectious and is likely even much more contagious than the seasonal flu.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some three million to five million people worldwide contract the flu each year. In the past less than two months, nearly 80,000 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
And, unlike for the flu, there is no vaccine currently available to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
“We are learning it is very difficult to contain this outbreak,” Leshem said. “We are seeing hundreds of cases in South Korea, Japan and other countries with good public health systems. We think the situation has the potential of becoming a pandemic and infecting millions of people.”
But is getting the coronavirus lethal or even serious in most cases?
That depends.
Half of the 600 people who contracted the coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship were asymptomatic, meaning they had no symptoms. Of the 50% who developed symptoms, 80% of them had mild symptoms, such as a short fever or cough, and then completely recovered. The other 20% of patients with symptoms, however (10% of the total who were infected) had a severe case of the disease.
“Even if the overall disease is mild in most cases, if there are millions of cases, we are still looking at tens of thousands or more cases of pneumonia [caused by the virus] – even in Israel if the disease does spread in Israel.”
According to the WHO, about 13% of people worldwide who contract the flu will die from it – between 290,000 to 650,000 people annually. So far, only about 3% of coronavirus victims have died, but that number continues to climb uncontrollably.
It is unlikely that the measures being taken by Israel’s Health Ministry will prevent the virus from spreading to Israel. However, Leshem said that strict travel restrictions such as those imposed by Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman can certainly delay the virus’s spread and give the country more time to prepare. This means buying more time to establish more isolated hospital beds, training physicians and securing needed treatment equipment.
Leshem said that even if Israel is an outlier in terms of its stringent travel restrictions, he believes that Litzman’s decision to act in the most conservative manner “is certainly defendable.”
DR. HAGAI LEVINE, an epidemiologist, public health physician and faculty member of the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also said he supports stringent measures. However, he said that the country should monitor Litzman, who is facing an election on March 2 and might act out of ulterior motives – even if somehow unintentionally.
“When there is an outbreak of a dangerous infectious disease, it’s essential to make decisions on the basis of the best scientific evidence and in accordance with principles of public health, in an orderly process that is led by professionals in public health and not political or other elements,” Levine said in a separate interview. “There needs to be caution toward an exaggerated emphasis on political and media considerations in preparing for the new coronavirus, especially in the sensitive period before the elections.”
He also said that while Israelis must follow the instructions provided by the Health Ministry to help prevent a public health crisis, “we have to keep a balanced view.
“This is not going to [make mankind] extinct,” Levine told the Post. “I am worried all the time about climate change, which could make us extinct. The coronavirus may become a pandemic and may even kill in the worst-case scenario millions of people. But we have overcome pandemics in the past and we will overcome this one now.”
He said that Israel is much better prepared to handle COVID-19 than it was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. (As previously mentioned, those syndromes were caused by other types of coronaviruses, which is why the current one is called the “novel” – new – coronavirus.)
He also said that Israelis should be grateful for their public health system and professionals, and should look at their neighbors who are struggling much more with containing the virus. Many areas in the Middle East and surrounding regions are suffering from conflicts, and therefore the ability to detect, let alone confront the virus may be greatly reduced.
“What would happen if the coronavirus hit Gaza?” Levine asked. “This could be a humanitarian crisis.”
He said he believes that Israel can handle this emergency, and citizens should not stop living or live worried all the time. Rather, we should come together and face the challenge.
“People in Israel are very resilient, and resilience is the key,” Levine said. “We are strong together.”
He recited the serenity prayer and said Israelis should keep it in mind: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”