Nobel laureate: surprised if Israel has more than 10 coronavirus deaths

Israeli Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt has predicted that no more than ten Israelis will succumb to COVID-19 – and even less with the new restrictions – since the number of cases is so few.

Nobel prize laureate Michael Levitt (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Nobel prize laureate Michael Levitt
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
No more than 10 people will die in Israel as a result of the novel coronavirus disease known as COVID-19, Nobel Prize laureate Michael Levitt predicted on Wednesday as the government continued to impose additional restrictions on the general population.
Levitt said that fears in Israel over the coronavirus were disproportionate to the threat, and that the number of cases in the country was uncertain due to reporting variances. "I will be surprised if the number of deaths in Israel surpasses 10," he said, adding that the Jewish state was "not on the world map for the disease."
Levitt has risen to prominence in recent weeks thanks to his successful forecast of the slowdown in the rate of infection in mainland China last month. By looking at statistics emerging on the number of people infected and the number of deaths, Levitt identified a bounded growth pattern, showing that instead of the rate of infection increasing exponentially, it started to tail off.
An American-British-Israeli biophysicist who won the 2013 Nobel Prize for chemistry, Levitt predicted earlier this week that there will be no new infections in China by the end of March.
Speaking to Kan's Reshet Bet radio on Wednesday, Levitt, who lives part-time in Tel Aviv, said that on a global scale, the number of cases in Israel is very small.
Officially, Israel has reported 427 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
"I don't believe the numbers in Israel, not because they're made up, but because the definition of a case in Israel keeps changing and it's hard to evaluate the numbers that way," Levitt said. 
"There is a lot of unjustified panic in Israel. I don't believe the numbers here, everything is politics, not math," he said.
"I will be surprised if number of deaths in Israel surpasses ten, and even five now with the restrictions."
Stressing that it is almost impossible to make comparisons country to country, because each government is taking a different approach to how they record cases, he said that, "South Korean tests are 10 times more sensitive than in Italy. If Italy measured cases like Korea, there would have been 10 times more cases."
Instead, the best way to evaluate the figures was through the number of deaths reported, he said. So far, Israel has not registered any deaths due from COVID-19.
It was through looking at the death statistics emerging from China that he was able to map the coronavirus's slowdown, and he has applied that technique to other countries. South Korea is already in the slow-down phase, he said, and Italy is nearing the same point.
"Italy is already half way through the disease," he told Reshet Bet. "There has been a decrease in growth in the number of deaths in Italy in the past 2-3 days."
To date there have been 31,506 cases recorded in Italy, according to John Hopkins University, of which 2,503 have resulted in death, and 2,941 people have recovered. 
"To put things in proportion, the number of deaths of coronavirus in Italy is 10% of the number of deaths of influenza in the country between 2016-2017," Levitt said.
"Even in China it's hard to look at the number of patients because definition of patient varies, so I look at number of deaths. In Israel there are none, so that's why it's not even on the world map for the disease."
However, that doesn't mean Levitt is dismissive of the precautions being put in place.
“You don’t hug every person you meet on the street now, and you’ll avoid meeting face to face with someone that has a cold, like we did,” Levitt told Calclist earlier this week. “The more you adhere, the more you can keep infection in check. So, under these circumstances... the rate will keep going down.”
Praising the Israeli government for its response, he added: "The more severe the defensive measures taken, the more they will buy time to prepare for needed treatment and develop a vaccine.”