The coronavirus pandemic is a marathon, not a race

Israel has to be particularly careful not to repeat the problems of the exit from the first closure.

Israelis wearing masks crowd the Jerusalem light rail, October 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israelis wearing masks crowd the Jerusalem light rail, October 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, agree most experts. As depressing as it might be, it has to be acknowledged and internalized that this is a long-term problem, not something that can be quickly cured.
There have already been over 2,400 deaths in Israel from COVID-19, and although the mortality rate is slowing, every death is a tragedy and the bereavement affects wide circles of family members and friends.
As Israel comes out of the second lockdown, the country has to be particularly careful not to repeat the problems of the exit from the first closure. The latest figures are encouraging, but we have already seen how swiftly matters can get out of control. There is a need for more testing and to close red zones, such as the decision to lock down the village of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights.
The numbers of infected in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities is dropping but there has been a rise in the number of people with corona in Arab communities. While being respectful of the needs and cultural sensitivities of different communities, policy must reflect the health and safety requirements of all citizens. Mass weddings in the Arab sector and mass prayers in the ultra-Orthodox have consequences. And while protecting the democratic right to protest, care must also be taken that demonstrators abide by corona-protection regulations, wear masks and maintain social distancing.
At the heart of the question of how to safely proceed is again the question of opening schools. It is sad that this is still to a large extent up in the air. Policymakers have had a lot of time to prepare for this – they should have been readying for this since the first lockdown, not the second.
After a day of lengthy and reportedly stormy debates, the coronavirus cabinet decided on Sunday that grades one through four will go back to school on November 1. First- and second-graders will study three days a week, while third- and fourth-graders will have a full week.
Education is a priority and the safe opening of the education system is essential. Children need to learn. They need a framework and structure. They need social interaction with their peers. Since the social services and relevant NGOs have noted a marked increase in reported cases of domestic violence during the closures, there are probably many children who need a break from the tensions at home and need an adult they can talk to and confide in.
Until the educational system is running again, the rest of the economy will not be able to function fully as parents spend time with young children.
Here, again, care must be taken not to repeat the mistakes of the first exit. While it is heartbreaking to see people losing the businesses they built up and hardworking employees being left without jobs, there are no shortcuts. There is no point in giving in to pressure and opening businesses now only to have to impose a third closure in a few weeks if the numbers get out of control.
Businesses without contact with the general public are already open and other businesses are expected to be allowed to open on November 1, with certain restrictions, according to an agreement between the Health and Finance ministries, with the mediation of the National Security Council.
The Tourism Ministry’s initiative to define the city of Eilat and the Dead Sea area as “green tourism islands” was approved this week and it makes sense to have places open for domestic tourism, especially as Israelis have begun traveling abroad for vacations.
We need to learn from our mistakes, the mistakes of others and also from what works – in places like South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan, for example.
Israel has a tendency to focus on security issues and ignore safety. But health cannot be ignored. It is easy to lose control as lockdowns are eased up.
Human nature is to want to swiftly get back to normal – or at least the new normal. But both the government and the ordinary citizens need to realize that it is not possible to ignore the virus and hope it will just go away.