The number of people infected by COVID-19 is steadily dropping, the percentage of positives among those tested is falling, and the graph of those in serious condition is trending downward.
All of that is welcome news, undoubtedly the result of the lockdown that went into effect on September 18. The raw data show that the lockdown – a harsh step that dramatically decreases human contact and restricts individual freedom – is working.
With the numbers looking much better – 2,200 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, as opposed to 7,732 on October 1; and with the rate of positives among those tested Tuesday at 5.4% rather than the 12.8% rate at the end of September, there is a natural inclination to want to ease up on the lockdown as swiftly as possible.
And this desire to reopen the country quickly will be stoked by small business owners – who are suffering terrible financial hardships – demanding to reopen shop; by parents chomping at the bit to send their children back to school; and by worshipers clamoring to be allowed to return to synagogues.
Despite all that, we have one piece of advice for the government: Hold the line.
For the sake of the greater good, hold the line. To prevent a need to reinstate yet another lockdown in four months, hold the line. To put some order in the chaos that has characterized the government’s handling of the crisis since May, hold the line.
Don’t bow to populist pressure. Don’t fold. Don’t cave to criticism from various corners. Lead with the head this time. Learn from May’s mistakes, when, because of pressure from various interest groups, Israel exited from the previous lockdown way too swiftly. Put aside the short-term political gain that could be had by moving ahead quickly, and do what is right for the entire country.
The professionals and the experts have drawn up a gradual, nine-point plan that – if all goes well – would have Israel largely return to itself in February. The plan, which is to start early next week, is wisely based on benchmarks, not dates.
If the number of new daily diagnosed cases drops to under 2,000, something expected to happen shortly, then the current 1,000-meter restrictions on leaving one’s home can be lifted; preschools, beaches, national parks and more businesses can open; and nuclear families can again gather together.
When the number of daily infections drops to 1,000, grades 1-4 can return to school, and synagogues can reopen their doors with certain restrictions. And then, gradually, as the number of daily infections falls even further, more and more restrictions will be lifted, with school for all to begin again in January, and clubs, bars and live sporting events to resume in early February.
The plan, reasonable and based on past experience, is already generating opposition. Small business owners are threatening to open on Sunday regardless of the rate of daily infections, haredi leaders are pledging to reopen the yeshivot, and there is pressure from both parents and students to immediately reopen schools.
Knesset Coronavirus Committee chairwoman MK Yifat Shasha-Biton said Tuesday, with no small amount of exaggeration, “We are losing an entire generation of children here – those children who have not been to school regularly for some time.”
Granted, it’s a difficult time for students. But is a year or even 18 months of long-distance learning really tantamount to “losing an entire generation of children?”
It is to exactly that type of rhetoric and hyperbole that the government needs to turn a deaf ear and do what it knows is right: exit the lockdown unhurriedly, always keeping an eye on the raw data, not the calendar.
It won’t be easy. Political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the haredi sector, and on Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz from the business sector, will be intense, and each will have his own political considerations in mind.
But now is the time for them to do what they were elected to do: lead, not follow the dictates of one particular interest group or another. It is precisely at times like these – when unpopular decisions may need to be made for the collective good – that the mettle of leaders is tested.