How Israel went from right to wrong on coronavirus


Israel achieved an impressive and embarrassing statistic last week, becoming the leading country in infections per capita.
Based on data from Johns Hopkins University, the Jewish state averaged 199.3 new cases a day per 1 million people during the seven-day period ending September 2. That is higher than any other country in the world.
It’s amazing since we can look back and listen again to the speech Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave in May when he declared that Israel had defeated the novel coronavirus.
It’s amazing to think how Israel went from being the country everyone in the world looked to as a role model, to one that everyone looks to now as an example of what you are not supposed to do.
There are many answers to what went wrong. First, was the reopening of the economy in May and June that went too fast. It should have been more gradual. Same with the reopening of the schools. There was no reason to bring older grades back to closed classrooms. They could have carried on studying remotely. When outbreaks were reported in high schools across the country, we all immediately understood why.
Then, there was the failure of the government to use the time that the nation was in lockdown to prepare for the day after. This was precious time wasted. Still today, six months into this pandemic, Israel fails at contact tracing. It still does not have enough investigators who can quickly and effectively cut the chain of infection.
It has increased testing to high numbers but people are still not able to just walk into a clinic and get a virus test, or a serological test to see if they have antibodies, meaning they have already had the virus.
The airport was also not dealt with correctly. While the skies were shut down and El Al came to a halt, no one thought to use the time to build a testing station so people coming and going could be tested. The earliest such a station will open there will be in October or November.
Add to all of this the politicization of the virus. Most citizens today seem to understand what was clear from the outset of the management of this pandemic – that it has not being fought by leaders, but by politicians, more interested in what the virus can do for their political careers and less interested in how they can really eradicate the virus.
What is happening with Uman is a classic case in point. People should not be allowed to travel there. Period. That is the position of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus commissioner Ronni Gamzu. That was also Netanyahu’s position until the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition started to threaten to bring down the government if a solution was not found. Now he’s instructed his ministers to come up with a compromise.
The accusations leveled by members of Netanyahu’s own party against Gamzu – that he is stoking antisemitism and should step down – does not help the fight. Instead, everyone seems to be doing what they want. Some people abide by the rules and hold weddings with under 50 people and others hold weddings with hundreds of guests as if there isn’t a virus raging here.
And why should people listen to Gamzu when they hear how politicians talk about him? If the elected officials don’t heed his guidelines, why should the average citizen?
For this to change, the government has to either start working or get out of the way. Since the government is not functioning, its incumbent upon each and every one of us to do his or her part. Wear a mask, social distance, clean your hands, stay home and away from public events and warn others when you see them not adhering to the rules.
Unfortunately, Israelis can no longer count on their elected leaders to do their job and steer the country to safety. In their absence it is up to us to fill the role, and we can do that by following the rules.



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