Why we should trust Israel’s response to coronavirus

Israel is notorious for regional chaos and cultural reluctance to planning, but the significant response to the coronavirus gives us reason to feel confident that the government takes it seriously.

TRAVELERS WEARING masks wait at Ben-Gurion Airport last week. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
TRAVELERS WEARING masks wait at Ben-Gurion Airport last week.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
In the apocalyptic movie World War Z (2013), the State of Israel was one of the last remaining countries (largely) unaffected by a global pandemic of zombies. In the story, Israel literally sealed itself off from the rest of the world and became ground zero for coming up with research and solutions to fight back against the inevitable demise of humanity.
Indeed, Israel has an international (and accurate) reputation for doing whatever it takes to protect its citizens. It should come as no surprise then that Israel’s actions in response to the coronavirus are some of the most broadly preventive measures in the world. Some have criticized Israel, and travel bans, claiming they simply spread fear. However, if there is one lesson we’ve learned, it’s not to rely solely on others for our safety.
In a country notorious for Middle Eastern chaos and a cultural reluctance to planning, Israel’s significant response to the coronavirus should give us reason to feel confident that the government is taking this issue seriously from the start.
Upon the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in China, Israel was one of the first countries to immediately implement a 14-day quarantine for any Israeli who recently visited China, as well as prohibiting entry for non-Israeli citizens who had been in China in the two weeks prior. Before any Israeli citizen was diagnosed with the virus, Macau, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong were added to the list of no entry, followed later by Japan and northern Italy. These decisions were not without consequence, as Israel’s actions drew harsh criticism from China for the temporary ban.
The first few Israelis from the cruise in Japan were diagnosed, and another Israeli was diagnosed immediately after the 14-day quarantine period, sparking fear in Israel. Escalating that panic, it was discovered that 29 South Koreans who had recently toured Israel tested positive for coronavirus after returning home, prompting a quarantine of hundreds of Israelis who interacted with the tour group, as well as a swift travel ban for non-Israeli citizens who had visited South Korea.
As the virus continued to spread across the world, the Health Ministry advised all citizens to avoid any unnecessary travel – an unprecedented measure – and extended the travel ban to include Italy. The same day, an Israeli who had recently flown to Italy (and had not been in quarantine) was diagnosed.
As of Sunday, over 5,600 Israelis were in quarantine.
OTHER MEASURES have been implemented, such as criminal punishments for not complying with quarantine when required. In addition, a joint Magen David Adom and Health Ministry hotline has been answering thousands of calls from concerned citizens.
Extraordinary measures have been put in place to protect healthcare workers as they assist those in quarantine. While there is no absolute guarantee the virus will not spread exponentially in Israel, the fact that it has thus far remained relatively controlled is a positive indicator when contrasted with the rapid spread of the disease in Italy, South Korea and, of course, Iran.
The Health Ministry and MDA have been working tirelessly to ensure that Israel is doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and that if a large outbreak occurs, Israel will be equipped to face it.
Speaking of Iran, Israel’s response can be contrasted with theirs as well, as Iran actively deceived its own people and endangered not only the entire country, but the entire world. When an Iranian official went public with the number of casualties, the regime shut him down instead of working to contain the outbreak. For days, Iranian government officials knew the crisis was rapidly spreading in Qom, and did nothing in a perverted effort to appear stronger ahead of elections.
This appalling irresponsibility has led to the coronavirus spreading throughout the Middle East by unknowing Iranian citizens, ultimately to even the highest levels of government. Five high-level officials have already been diagnosed, including Deputy Minister of Health Iraj Harirchi, Vice President of Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar, and the head of the national security committee in Iran’s parliament.
Both Harirchi and Ebtekar were present in cabinet meetings with Iran’s highest levels of leadership in recent days. Understandably, people inside and outside of Iran are rightfully outraged at the gross incompetence and corruption of the Iranian regime.
While countries around the world scramble to cope with the coronavirus with varying success, it’s heartening that for all of Israel’s shortcomings, irresponsibility in a true crisis is certainly not one of them.
Even though some of Israel’s abrupt measures have triggered condemnation, massive economic risk and even diplomatic issues, Israelis ought to feel assured and confident that the State of Israel is putting the physical well-being of its citizens above political games and financial interest.
Some critics have labeled Israel’s moves hysterical, but the Health Ministry’s sweeping efforts reflect how seriously it takes the issue. That should make any Israeli feel just a little better, despite uncertainties about what lies ahead with the coronavirus.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.