Corona, Bibi and Chelm

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Chelm is the fictional town in Jewish tradition where people are not filled with the greatest of intellect. Aish.com brings us a typical Chelm story:

When Dr. Goldstein opened a walk-in clinic in Chelm, his first patient, named Yankel, walked in complaining, “Doctor, I hurt all over.”

“That’s impossible,” said Dr. Goldstein.

“No, really!” replies Yankel, “Just look — when I touch my arm, ouch! it hurts. When I touch my leg, ouch! it hurts. When I touch my head, ouch! it hurts. When I touch my chest, ouch! it really hurts.”

“I know for a fact that your body is fine,” said Dr. Goldstein.

“How could you know such a thing?” asked Yankel, shocked.

Dr. Goldstein replied, “Because your finger is broken.”

Well, I think that Bibi is living in Chelm. Why do I say this?

Because one small, but important, limb of the country is broken, and yet Bibi is consistently giving us the all-over body treatment of a lockdown.

Which limb? Emergency beds in Israeli hospitals.

An August 2019 Taub Center report states, “The average bed occupancy rate in Israeli hospitals is exceptional at about 94%, versus an average of 75% in [other] OECD countries.”

In other words, Israel operates its hospitals with a quarter of the buffer considered acceptable by other developed nations.

Now, electricity networks are routinely operated at 75% capacity. However, imagine running an electricity network at 94% capacity. When you reach the first hot day of summer, your air conditioning would fail to function — and you’d receive a text from your electricity provider saying “Apologies, we didn’t foresee that it might get hot.” Hotels routinely operate at 75% occupancy but imagine if they were operated at 94% capacity — you’d try to take a July break and Booking.com would report “No availability until November 24th.”

So why have no new hospitals been built in the past five years in Israel? According to Haaretz in April 2019, “Only 165 beds were added in 2018 while the population grew by 174,000… and the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people has hit a three-decade low.”

And it is no secret that excess capacity in emergency beds provides a stronger protection to the economy in times of disease. The OECD stated in 2018, “Health spending helps stabilize the economy in times of crisis.”

Indeed, Israel has the fastest growing proportion of over 65’s in the developed world (a projected 50% increase in 15 years to 2030), due to the sudden immigration of over 1 million Russians 30 years ago, many of who are now coming up for retirement and the general increase in birth rates since the founding of the state 72 years ago. And since the over 65’s use emergency beds at a rate of 5-8 times more than the young and middle aged (Ministry of Health data), that means that we will need 100% extra emergency beds and general hospital care by 2030.

Who has been responsible for the lack of new hospital capacity in Israel over the past 10 years? Surely the buck stops with Bibi.

The Jerusalem Post reported Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen expressing her  outrage on 28th January that “Israel has been in lockdown for 139 days since the beginning of the pandemic, longer than any other country.”

We have been locked down more than any other country for one reason. We have the lowest level of spare emergency beds in the developed world. And this is true for one reason: we built no new capacity for years.

Had the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on lockdowns been spent, instead, on building new hospitals and equipping them with fully trained teams of doctors and nursing staff, we could look forward to a future where Corona no longer plays a part in our day-to-day lives. However, the short sightedness of Bibi and all our politicians over the past decade has led to this current emergency with no sign of a reprieve.

What is needed is an immediate plan to build 50%-100% more hospital capacity in this country over the next 15 years.

Lockdowns do not save lives, any smart analyst will explain this. A life fortuitously saved during a lockdown is just sadly taken a few weeks later. A long term approach to this crisis would have been (and still is) to stop throwing good money after bad and to invest in the future health of the nation.

Our politicians from the past decade must take full responsibility for the unnecessary lives lost over this Corona period along with all the economic fallout. There is nothing more that can be done at this point, but let’s at least look to the future.

And the question remains, “If it’s the finger that’s broken, why are we continuing to treat the whole body?”

My only reasonable answer to that is: Bibi must be living in Chelm.

About the Author
The writer is the emeritus Rabbi of Radlett United Synagogue with a Masters degree in Public Health from Hebrew University and a lifelong career in finance.
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