Are we really better than other countries in fighting coronavirus?

Much is being spoken about solidarity nowadays. Does this include respecting those who are violating the medical instructions and putting all of us at risk?

A coronavirus checking station in Beersheba  (photo credit: YASSER OKBI)
A coronavirus checking station in Beersheba
(photo credit: YASSER OKBI)
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 plague is the story of this year, if not this decade. As someone aptly put it: “What a year this past week was.”
However, when thinking about it, especially from a Jewish point of view, there are two central issues. One is: How are we handling the situation? Are we doing the right thing or not? What, if anything, can be done better? The second one is:  Remember that our Jewish tradition charges us that we must attempt doing as much as possible, and then some, to save lives.
We will argue that on both counts, our media has not lived up to our expectations. We are constantly told that the regulations concerning the virus are the best way to fight the plague and reduce its effects. Moreover, we are informed that Israel is a leader in what it is doing to combat the novel coronavirus as compared to other countries.
We do not doubt for a moment that isolation is the law of the day. But is that all? Is it impacting the statistics? Seemingly not. If one looks at the graph of Covid-19 cases in Israel, one sees an amazingly clear exponential plot. In other words, the number of cases is increasing as one would expect. Even if no restrictions were in place, epidemics, when uncontrolled, would initially spread exponentially.
Yet, in none of our newspapers will one find this kind of graph. The number of known Covid-19 patients is reported, but there is very little discussion as to what the numbers actually mean or what the potential ramifications of those numbers  are, as well as the graphs curves and/or lines. Are we really doing better than Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, the United States or Canada?
One way of understanding all this is to compare the graphs of the number of known Covid-19 cases as a function of time and to pay special attention to the rate of the increase.  For example, the plot of the present Italian data clearly shows that the rate of increase there is much larger than here.
SIMPLY PUT, we should know how many days pass for the infected population to double. In Israel, the number is approximately three. In Italy, it was close to two. In Singapore and Japan, it is close to ten. In South Korea it is nearing five days. So, are we doing well? The numbers alone do not tell the whole story. For example, the data and their ramifications depend on how many tests were taken. As we know here, as time passes the number of tests increase therefore leading to a further increase in the number of known patients.
But all this is moot. In this short article, our purpose is not to analyze the situation but rather to point out the failings of our media. Around Election Day, we are bombarded almost daily with public opinion polls which then undergo lengthy analysis by the self-proclaimed experts. But when it comes to Covid-19, the data is not presented nor discussed in any serious way and not only because the media people are not academically qualified experts.
Why is this lack of in-depth discussion important? No, it is not – as many journalists might think – another way to disprove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Israel is doing a great job in handling the situation. Let us assume that the numbers convince us that something is wrong. This would have consequences, such as justifying the heavy-handed regulations. Perhaps it would indicate that too many sectors in the population are not heeding the instructions? This is what is important. We need reminding that Covid-19 is a killer!
It is precisely this threat which has convinced many rabbinical leaders to curtail religious practices such as praying with a minyan in synagogues, closing study halls, curtailing males going to the mikveh (ritual bath), limiting the number of people participating in circumcision ceremonies or funerals.
This is not a simple issue. For the Orthodox community, to miss going to synagogue on Shabbat hurts badly, certainly not less than preventing swimming enthusiasts from going to the beach. Yet we all accept it. By doing so, we will hopefully be able to live and keep many more Shabbatot as they should be kept, as well as go to the beach in the future.
CONTRAST THIS to the media outcry when the government decided to implement life-saving steps which encroach upon our privacy. It gave the General Security Service the legal right to follow cellphones to identify people who are at risk from contagion. Big Brother! screamed the headlines; it is as if  it is 1984! shouted others. Various so-called human rights NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court in an attempt to annul the decision and the operation was upheld.
The argument, of course, is that our privacy is at stake, which it truly is. But, so what? If we are dead, our privacy is immaterial. What possible private reason could override the right of dozens – who may become infected and die – to know whether they are in danger? Yes, for those whose religion is human rights, this might seem like a terribly severe measure. But is it worse than cancelling going to the minyan on Shabbat? Or, as we shall soon see, preventing the traditional gathering of families at the Seder evening?
The media worked hard to provide the civil rights groups with a platform, but no one – yes, no one – asked these extremist ideologues if they are not ashamed of undermining public safety? No one has suggested that they should be ostracized due to their lack of caring for the life of their neighbors and only operating in the narrow sense of what they perceive as human rights.
Is not the right to life the most basic human right of all? The media, had it really cared for all of us, could have made it clear to these “Khomeinists,” that they are not quite humanists and that they are barking up the wrong tree or, at least, might challenge their thinking and priorities.
Much is being spoken about solidarity nowadays. Does this include respecting those who are violating the medical instructions and putting all of us at risk?
Is our media really reporting what is happening within the Arab and haredi sector? Are the Waqf and the various Islamist religious leaders at the forefront of the struggle to save people’s lives? The same questions should be addressed to the haredi communities, where some of the yeshivas remain open. Is the police doing what needs to be done to prevent this kind of life endangering practice? Are the authorities upholding the law, imposing fines on the health order-derelicts even in the Arab and haredi societies? To sum it up, the media can and should do a better job in reporting and in analyzing, in educating the people and in criticizing governmental actions where they really need to be addressed.
Let us remember, Covid-19 is a life and death issue. This and only this should be the guiding fact in whatever we do in the next weeks and perhaps months.
The writers are members of Israel’s Media Watch,