Corona Times: The Questions We are Avoiding

We know that it came from China and some allege it was made in China, accusing the Chinese regime of manipulating a strain of the coronavirus with the aim to infect humans and inflict a global health crisis. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has affirmed that according to scientific evidence the virus evolved in nature, discrediting the conspiracy theories that it was artificially engineered in a Wuhan lab. This doesn’t convince the Trumpists who absolve the American President’s screwball response to the pandemic and still blame China for “unleashing” the deadly virus. Some folks will never let the experts confuse them with the facts.

With all the talk in these corona times, we’re avoiding some tough questions that demand explanation. Here are seven such questions that come to mind, along with proposed answers and actual results of key developments.

1. According to a recent report in the Times of Israel, US intelligence knew about the corona threat as far back as November. Why didn’t the Americans take the threat seriously in the critical months from November-February, and why did they finally act on it only around mid-March?

Answer: Donald Trump is the simple answer, and also the right answer. Building on the luck of previous health threats that died out, he played it down, said it was less harmful than the flu and hoped that the virus would just go away.

Result: By January 2020, the effects of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan were so alarming that the media was on to it and the whole world was talking about it. Meanwhile Trump, having wasted his intelligence report and still in denial mode on the corona front, was busy signing his much heralded trade agreement with China.

2. If the coronavirus threat was big breaking news in January, why was the world so slow to respond to it?

Answer: World leaders were more wary of the economic costs of health crisis prevention than the economic fallout and the health disaster itself, which would surely come in consequence of underfunded health systems.

Result: The Diamond Princess cruise ship kept its coronavirus–infected passengers in onboard quarantine in the Port of Yokohama in Japan, and a disaster waiting to happen grew more ominous by the day as the world, with few exceptions, held its breath and did nothing.

3. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu closed down the skies over Israel in the second week in March. Why didn’t he do so in mid-February, before the arrival of the first corona carriers, or even in late February, when Israel had already absorbed its first corona patients?

Answer: February was before the elections. Better to risk a blow to the whole economy after the elections than a setback for the tourist industry before the elections – not to mention the impending health disaster that no one wanted to talk about.

Result: With the closed skies and subsequent lockdown in emergency mode, the Israeli economy came to a standstill, with losses of NIS 1 billion a day.

4. If Bibi didn’t close down the skies before the elections, why weren’t steps taken to at least receive inbound tourists and corona patients and quarantine them in a supervised fashion?

Answer: The afore-mentioned lack of preparedness and investment in the Israeli health system, under both normal and emergency conditions, involving the purchase of medical equipment, testing equipment and hospital beds, and sufficient hiring of doctors, nurses and hospital attendants. In Israel, the first appearance of corona hit an already distressed health system. It’s a small comfort that countries all over the world don’t give top priority to health spending.

Result: With the lack of crisis management, arriving corona patients went through Ben Gurion Airport unchecked, took the train home and spread their sickness. The sloppy response in the early days of the crisis still hasn’t been rectified.

5. Why did Bibi wait until one week after the elections to take action?

Answer: Bibi listened to Israeli health officials, declared an emergency and took the appropriate measures only after his rival Benny Gantz got the mandate to form a government. As always with Bibi, it was all politics.

Result: Great for Bibi’s political survival, useful as an emergency cover to delay his court date, and good for Israel in the “better late than never” sense of the meaning. Coronavirus cases multiplied exponentially and Israeli fatalities mounted accordingly before the health restrictions eventually took effect and started to “flatten the curve.”

6. Bibi Netanyahu has been widely acclaimed, even by his sharpest critics, for listening to Israeli health experts and responding in a manner that left Israel in an enviable position in comparison with other OECD countries. By the same logic, shouldn’t Donald Trump be widely condemned, even by his most fervent supporters, for ignoring his health experts and delaying his response to the pandemic? Shouldn’t he be censured for his derisive, sociopathic and pseudo-scientific remarks to the press at a time when America needs responsible leadership?

Answer: There are no logical explanations for the freak show presented by Donald Trump and his faithful flock. Maybe historic hindsight will be more enlightening.

Result: One of the most medically advanced countries in the world is suffering the most tragic consequences of the corona pandemic, with no end in sight.

7. Israel’s response to the health crisis was woefully ineffective in homes for the elderly and in crowded haredi neighborhoods in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. How to account for these failures?

Answers: With regard to nursing homes, social welfare in Israel, for the elderly, needy families and youth at risk, receives limited government funding. Not so Israel’s haredi community, which benefits richly from Israeli governments that are built on their support. This constant need for haredi endorsement prevailed even in the current crisis situation when rabbinical leaders openly defied the instructions of Israeli health officials, prompting their yeshiva students to ignore social distancing and even clash with IDF soldiers and police.

Results: The highest casualty rates and death tolls in Israel were recorded in the underfunded nursing homes and the overfunded and defiant haredi sector.

In Israel, lessons learned from the pandemic demand progressive thinking. How about cutting down on Israeli bureaucracy, i.e. the division of responsibilities among different ministries that leads to confusion and ineffectual service at nursing homes, for example. Real progress can be made by changing spending priorities, which would entail more funding for crisis management, public health and social welfare. Paying for such essential services would mean less handouts to undeserving populations, less horsetrading in the Knesset, less catering to special interest groups and yes, less bailouts for large corporations. Just saying…Under the upcoming center-right-haredi coalition government, no one is expecting such sweeping changes to take place anytime soon.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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