Although the country is still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, there are signs of stabilization and an indication that the policies instituted by the government are beginning to rein in the spread of the virus.
A report by Hebrew University researchers released on Thursday concluded that the country had gained control of the coronavirus crisis and started to flatten the curve. The report said that the number of patients in serious and moderate condition had stabilized and that the doubling rate had risen to an encouraging 27 days.
For the first time since the start of the “second wave,” the infection rate has fallen below threshold 1 – each contagious person is currently infecting less than one other person, it was disclosed Sunday.
Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu told N12’s Dana Weiss over the weekend that the country is at a turning point and that “we are starting to have some breathing room – slowly, slowly. This is the time to open. This is the time to ease restrictions. This is the time to get back our income.”
As part of that effort, Gamzu said that there will be discussions about opening the skies by mid-August, at least for visitors from green countries and maybe from additional locations as well.
One aspect of returning Israel to some semblance of normalcy and jump-starting the economy that is causing controversy and dissension is the issue of allowing some 16,000 foreign, mostly American yeshiva students to enter the country this fall for year-studies.
Last week, Interior Minister Arye Deri announced in a statement that his ministry would approve the entry into Israel of most of the students, after a decision was made with the participation of Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and officials from the Health and Foreign ministries.
Approvals would only be made for foreign students in academic institutions, yeshivas, seminaries, or on programs like Masa, Naaleh, and other high school or pre-army (mechina) programs which meet the Health Ministry’s isolation requirements.
The plan has run into strong opposition from Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman, who sent a harsh letter to Gamzu claiming that the students would be allowed into Israel before the High Holidays without prior screening for coronavirus. In a Facebook post, he wrote that the decision was based on political considerations based on “the surrender of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Alternate Prime Minister Benny] Gantz to the ultra-Orthodox parties.”
Gamzu also said that allowing the students in would be problematic. “We need to prevent an additional outbreak,” he said.
He elaborated on Sunday, explaining that there will be stringent guidelines placed upon the students and educational institutions.
If a decision is made to have students learn in capsules, there will be inspectors to make sure they adhere to the rules. He said this applies to university students, as much as yeshiva and seminary students.
“Any institution that disrespects the restrictions will be closed, and anybody who disrespects the restrictions will be deported,” Gamzu told Army Radio.
If implemented according to Health Ministry regulations – with the proper pre-testing, quarantine period upon arriving and observance of the already established mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines – the influx of students could prove to be a boon for Israel’s economy.
It will enable the educational institutions to open, provide employment for teachers and instructors, inject money into the starved economy for restaurants, taxis and leisure-focused businesses, and slowly mark a return from the closed-border policy that has exemplified the country since the onset of the pandemic in March.
Many of the students are from the pool that will make up future aliyah to Israel. Even amid the corona pandemic, these ties that bind Israel and its Diaspora supporters must be maintained.
The government policies to curb corona must strike the delicate balance between minimizing the chances of a further outbreak and enabling the slow, supervised return to normalcy and economic recovery.
It will take cooperation on all sides and discipline from the arrivals and their sponsors alike. But if implemented properly and supervised stringently, allowing the 16,000 yeshiva and university students from abroad to study in Israel this fall will be a step in the right direction.