Janne L. Punski-Hoogervorst
Dutch MD passionate about Mental Health, Public Health & Human Rights

Don’t lose track of what pandemic control is really about: our health

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            Israel is angry. For the 4th week in a row, there have been major demonstrations throughout the country. We’ve seen Black Flag movements across some 200 road junctions, and infuriated crowds raging their concerns in the streets against a failing, out of touch, and seemingly corrupt government. Climaxing on the 12th and 18th of July with hundreds of people at the Presidents’ residence in Jerusalem and thousands protesting in Tel Aviv. It clearly isn’t over yet.

       It’s the Summer of 2020. The world is battling a global pandemic, and unfortunately Israel is no exception. When the first cases of the novel COVID-19 emerged in Israel in late February, the government decided to take aggressive and far-reaching decisions ultimately leading to a full lock-down of the country. Although huge economic and emotional impacts ensued, the decision seemed to be justified by the declining number of daily cases throughout May.

       However, after a low of only 5 diagnosed cases on May 16, the government quickly decided to reopen the economy. And without considering incubation times, nor allowing data to catch up to verify the safety of the reopening, one after the other,  the imposed bans were lifted.

       And that’s where it went wrong. Without listening to epidemiologists, public health specialists, or medical professionals, the government resorted to hasty and illogical decisions. While those who investigate the data and track the spread of the infection raised their hands to draw attention to another upcoming wave and pressured for necessary actions that needed to be taken, they were put aside as troublemakers provoking unnecessary worries to the public. When the people cried out for help and support to keep businesses alive and be able to provide food to their families, their voices were ignored.

       The country feels lost. No one is able to follow the guidelines. They don’t come at the moments they are supposed to be discussed, and get implemented hastily before the start of the weekend, leaving no room for adaptation. While the real economic impact of the decisions and lack of leadership and support becomes more and more clear, the government seems more and more distant from those who need them most.

       The impact of COVID-19 is clearly not only a personal risk, but also a public risk. Moreover, its impact is not only based on numbers of infected or severe cases battling for their life, but especially also relates to the amount of those struggling for survival due to economic loss. However, with a failing government and so much uncertainty for the future months, maybe even years, it is important for each and every one to contribute whatever is possible.

       We have to take responsibility. Don’t make decisions purely based on government ruling. But also: don’t try to find loopholes in whatever guidelines are currently implemented. The more limited social interaction, the smaller the chance of infection with the virus. The smaller the risk of infection, the more limited the chance of transmitting. And when limiting social interaction is not further possible, there are other proven methods to further bring down the chance of transmitting: properly worn masks, disinfection of public areas, hand hygiene, maintaining distance etc.

       If everyone takes responsibility that is required to achieve a high level of public health, it might be possible to completely avoid stricter measures or even another complete lock-down of the country. But it does require effort, and of course, it is not easy. But wouldn’t it be beautiful if we would be able to show as a country that we want to fight this battle together, reducing the risks to those who are especially vulnerable, and maybe even completely allow places to remain open?

It’s time to realise again what the current situation is really about: our personal health, the health of our families and dear ones, the health of the country. Making a change often starts with your own actions: COVID-control is no exception.

About the Author
Dr Janne L. Punski-Hoogervorst is a Dutch-trained medical doctor with clinical experience working in mental health care, both in clinical and outreaching settings. She made Aliyah in April 2019, and currently conducts academic research in post-traumatic stress disorder. Her publications are aimed to spread awareness about public and mental health, as well as promote psychological health in a daily life context.
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