Seven steps to a highly effective coronavirus lockdown

What should Israel do so that the coronavirus closure is "not in vain"?

Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israel is heading into another lockdown on Friday because its citizens and leaders made the wrong choices. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and the rest of the cabinet let politics get in the way of logical decision-making. And the public failed to take personal responsibility, gathering in masses without masks.
Now, Israel has more than 500 people hospitalized in serious condition and a health system on the brink of breakdown.
On Sunday night, when Edelstein explained the reason behind the closure, he said Israel must use these three weeks wisely. Otherwise, the lockdown “will be in vain.”
Here are seven things the country can do:
Test, trace, isolate
Since nearly the start of the coronavirus pandemic it has been understood that the three essential steps to stopping the country’s next closure are to test, trace and isolate – ideally in less than 48 hours.
The idea is to test people with symptoms. If they test positive, move into the contact-tracing phase, reaching out to those people who they have been in contact with in the past two weeks and putting them in isolation. Then, test those people, too.
Since Edelstein took office, the number of daily tests has increased to around 50,000 per day, and this number is expected to reach as many as 100,000 by winter. However, as Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar-Ilan University told The Jerusalem Post, “Testing is not everything.”
“It doesn’t matter how many tests will be employed. If you don’t know who to test, you cannot be successful,” said Prof. Ran Nir-Paz, an expert in microbiology and infectious diseases at Hadassah-University Medical Center. “You cannot get around this point.”
Test, trace, isolate proved effective in nearly every country that has “beat” the coronavirus, he said.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu was charged with presenting an action plan for severing the chain of infection. One of the first moves he made in his role was to enlist the IDF to play a central role in this matter.
However, this was “obvious back in March,” and Gamzu was only appointed in July, said Nir-Paz. Last week, Gamzu told the public the system was still not running at 100%, and it will take until at least November 1 to be effective.
The closure is expected to loosen by October 11.
The government must put together an effective plan of hasbara, public diplomacy, to help better educate Israel’s diverse public about the pandemic.
“There are a lot of people that do not understand the way the virus spreads or why they should do this or that,” Cohen told the Post.
Education is not just listing rules in several languages. It is explaining these rules to the public in ways that help them understand.
“People are confused, and confused people are not always willing to recognize or follow regulations,” Cohen said.
Once they understand the directives, the public must comply with them.
“The major obstacle facing Israel is the lack of compliance of the people,” Nir-Paz said. “The moment there is compliance with masks and social distancing, the condition of Israel will be better, regardless of what efforts are being made by the government.”
He called on citizens to think long term and big picture, “rather than exploit any loopholes in the recommendations for their own benefit.”
But when they do not comply, the Israel Police must enforce the restrictions through substantial fines and even potentially by arresting those who severely break protocol and endanger lives.
Large gatherings, especially weddings of hundreds to thousands of people, have fueled rising coronavirus cases in recent months.
Last week, Gamzu pleaded with the public: “We need to stop gatherings, especially in red cities.”
“We need to be very harsh with these people,” Cohen said. “There should be no compromises on this point.”
Plan, standardize
The government must use these next three weeks to project three months ahead and present a plan that will carry the country through to flu season and ultimately to the spring. The plan should be reevaluated every two weeks, but it should be organized in advance so that last-minute decisions are not required, and people can more easily comply with its requests.
In just the last month, the government’s last-minute decision-making has left citizens in a state of confusion.
For example, earlier this month, the government changed its policy on the number of people allowed to gather indoors to pray within mere days. First, the coronavirus cabinet made a decision that 10 people could pray in closed spaces and 20 outside. After haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians pressured Netanyahu, the numbers changed to 20 inside and 30 outside.
The list of red zones was only published the day before the curfews went into effect. And parents learned that schools were opening – but not in red zones – only the night before, as well.
“Things have to make sense,” Cohen said. “If you allow prayers in synagogues, it needs to be in the same way you allow people to eat in restaurants and vice versa. If you allow demonstrations to take place, then there needs to be an outline similar to any other kind of outdoor gathering.”
Be professional (not political)
The public is rightfully frustrated by its leaders, who have allowed the pandemic to spread like wildfire across the country in the name of populism.
In July, Edelstein and Netanyahu hired Gamzu to help Israel live alongside the novel virus. Then, they failed to give him the tools or support he needed to do it. Israel is heading to lockdown because the government took too long – three weeks – to pass the “traffic light” plan, Cohen said.
Even when it was passed, fights over which cities would be locked down became political instead of based on Gamzu’s professional recommendations that eight to 10 “deep red” cities became 40 red zones with ineffective night curfews.
Now, by Gamzu’s most recent assessment, there are more than 60 red cities across Israel – and around two-thirds of infections are outside the original red zones, so the traffic-light system would not even work.
“I think if you ask the people what they want to hear and see, it is transparency,” Cohen said. “We are at the point where we have come to understand that whoever is shouting loudest will be exempt from regulations.” He said it is making Israel unhealthy.
Serve as role models
On Passover, when Israelis were under a strict curfew that prevented people from hosting family gatherings, both Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin shared their Seder with their children, prompting outrage by millions of ordinary Israelis who sacrificed and did not.
“Our leaders need to set an example,” Cohen said. “The virus spreads between people no matter who you are, and we need to have respect for that. Each person needs to see him- or herself as someone who can transmit or catch the virus.
“We saw what our leaders did on Passover,” Cohen said. “Let’s see how they behave on Rosh Hashanah.”