Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” By this definition, Israel’s current approach to managing the Covid crisis meets this definition of insanity.
There is plenty of blame to be shared for our being in this predicament. It is a combination of inconsistent government policy, poor enforcement of regulations, and narcissistic interests that have placed us where we are.
At the beginning of the outbreak in Israel, the government was decisive, strict, and firm in imposing national as well as local lockdowns to quell the impact of the Covid outbreak. Citizens were limited in distances that they could travel outside of their own homes except for purchasing food, medicine or if you were an essential worker. This was hard on the population yet, the “total lockdown” yielded impressive results. Israel was the “light unto the nations” with only 4 new cases per day. The Israeli model was replicated across the world.
Then, Israel started losing the Covid War by reopening too quickly. We all remember when the Prime Minister told us that we would reopen slowly and that we would reclose if we exceeded 100 daily cases. We did not reopen slowly; we accelerated too quickly. Netanyahu exhorted us to go out and have a good time. Bibi later acknowledged that we made a mistake, yet we have not returned to the regulations that kept Covid under control.
Instead, Israel crushed the 100 daily case standard with the daily number of cases exceeding 2000 daily. We should not be fooled by a declining new case count caused by stricter guidelines that lower the number of tests, or that fewer tests occur over the weekend leading to a lower number of cases. The incidence of positive test results is at 7.5%, a 67% increase from Mid-March.
The Covid War ranks as the 5th deadliest war in Israel’s history. Consider that the War against Covid has caused Israel to lose more citizens than the 2nd Palestinian Intifada, the Second Lebanon War, Operations Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge combined.
Today we are bombarded by a cacophony of conflicting information from various leaders, all claiming that they are in charge. While one may tell us that our hospitals are overwhelmed and putting off surgeries, another is telling us that the medical system is fine. Some are looking to further reopen, while others point out that we rank 4th in the world in Covid incidence. In addition, our so-called new Covid Czar, whose medical expertise is being wasted on such important areas as yeshiva students and cultural reopenings.
Adding to this din is a group of whining self-interest groups who are rewarded with daily regulatory changes. As much as we are sensitive to the pain of restaurant, bar, event hall, and cultural staff, access to their venues is not an inalienable right. It is a “nice to have” but this does not trump the greater public good. Similarly, restricted access to synagogues, yeshivas and study halls during Covid is a matter of Pekuach Nefesh, saving a life. If you believe that G-d is everywhere, then pray and learn in safely operating street minyanim or in your own home.
Part of this issue relates to nonsensical standards that relate to population within venues. The standard of 10 inside/20 outside has no relationship to the size of the venue and social distancing needs. A new standard of number of people related to the square meterage of the facility needs to be established. Each venue should receive a specific, published (on websites and at the entrance of the establishment) attendance limit. The days of trying to “outsmart the regulation” need to end.
Regulations need to be enforced with non-compliance heavily punished. The law must be fully enforced by the government by means of meaningful and punitive fines, extended loss of operating license, or imprisonment. It is outrageous to allow people to proclaim their non-compliance and then not punish them for their illegal actions. This is anarchy.
Individuals bear personal responsibility for their actions as well. While we all know that masks are effective in checking the spread of Covid, 30% of Israelis are not wearing masks. While 70% say that they are wearing masks, we all know that many are wearing them below their nose or chin lines. As with business establishments, real daily enforcement is necessary, and the fines should be high. We should be trying to save lives and non-compliance is both anti-social and dangerous.
The media should increase their public responsibility in reporting on Covid as well. Instead of journalism and responsible reporting, the press is reporting on leaks, speculation, and innuendo with great speed and without fact checking. Individual agendas of each media outlet have moved from the editorial to the news pages leading to the blurring of fact and opinion. Sadly, the media (along with the government) is reporting on deaths in terms of their numbers versus the personal toll to the country. We have currently lost more than 500 Israelis, each one of them a person who mattered. Tell us their names, show us their faces, tell us something about them and use their passing as an inspiration not to lose another valued and beloved citizen. We need to feel the loss; not count a number without meaning.
Lastly, the government needs to take firm action and stop communicating to gain a sound bite. We need a phased long-term approach to Covid with defined responsibility and strict regulatory enforcement. We have no long-term strategy on Covid management; we are lurching and reacting daily, causing confusion and an increase in deaths. We need to know what data backed factors are in each phase of the openings or closings, and the economic elements that go along with it. This approach has effectively managed Covid in the Northeast United States.
Covid needs Israel at our best. We are not delivering it. All the chirping and whining must end, including those in the government. We do not need to hear how hard leaders are working; that is what you were hired (elected) to do. We do not care that this is happening in other countries; we need to answer the Covid challenge in Israel. We need to get experts and not politicians in critical positions, using their specific expertise only in their defined areas.
In the end, there is only one person who is in charge. It is not the health minister, the Covid Czar or select members of the Knesset. Ultimately, it is our Prime Minister who we will hold accountable. Bibi, it is time to get tough, be strong again and be the leader who will lead us back to health and success.