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Time is running out – we must protect our elders

Our national disaster response proposal, 'Honor Your Father and Mother' (and your grandparents), aims to protect everyone over the age of 70
ILLUSTRATIVE -- People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020 (Flash90)
ILLUSTRATIVE -- People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020 (Flash90)


We are in the midst of critical days for the State of Israel, the citizens of Israel, and the Israeli economy. If this is not a national emergency, then I do not know what is.

Let’s do some quick, “back of the envelope” math together. For most of us, even if we are infected with coronavirus, especially if we are young and healthy, the disease will pass in just a few days with mild, flu-like, symptoms. On the other hand, if about 50% of Israeli citizens are exposed to the coronavirus in the next four weeks (which, given the disease’s trajectory in Italy and China, is a reasonable scenario), about 10% will get infected and develop some symptoms of the disease at varying levels (about 400,000 people). Of these, some 10% will develop a more serious illness requiring hospitalization, oxygen, antibiotics or intubation+ventilation (about 40,000 patients). If this happens, the Israeli health system will collapse.

We don’t have 40,000 empty hospital beds or 40,000 ventilators. We don’t even have 10,000. This is why this is an emergency. We must act quickly to prepare for and prevent the rapid infection rate, especially in populations that are more likely to develop an illness that will require hospitalization.

Primarily, this is a crisis for Israel’s elderly population, particularly those in their 70s and older. According to the data collected to date, their chances of surviving coronavirus-related illnesses are much lower than younger demographics. The time to take action — and prevent loss of life — is now.

My partners and I therefore call on the State of Israel to embark on a national disaster response operation, which we are naming “Honor Your Father and Mother” (and your grandparents). As part of this operation, we propose that the entire Israeli population over the age of 70 should be isolated for four to eight weeks, even if they have not been exposed to the virus to date. (Simply avoiding visits to nursing homes, which the Ministry of Health already recommends, will not suffice). This is a necessary and urgent step that arises not only from a direct medical need, but primarily a social, and even, security need, which I will explain.

Today, with the number of verified infections of coronavirus in Israel passing 100, and the government announcing a ban on gatherings of 100 people or more, we have actually left the “containment” stage of the virus. We have now progressed to the point where we can only attempt to slow massive community infection. At this point, it is impossible to identify all of the active sources of infection and attribute them to specific exposure events of the virus. Therefore, we must decelerate the spread of the virus in order to prevent the collapse of our medical system, which will crumble under the weight of having to hospitalize, provide respiratory support and provide treatment to tens of thousands of patients.

One need not look further than Italy to see a country in complete chaos and paralysis, which is a direct result of waiting too long to implement a proper containment strategy. Now, the country is faced with a reality that includes tens of thousands of patients and over a thousand deaths. The health system in Italy is collapsing because it does not have the means and facilities to treat that many patients. While Israel’s health system is robust, it won’t survive a massive influx of patients suffering from coronavirus. We must slow the rate of infection, no matter what.

The mortality rate for anyone under the age of 60 is less than 1%. This age group is more likely to end up with mild flu-like symptoms, which do not require complex medical treatment. This is not the case for the elderly. Among those aged 70 and over, the mortality rate for this disease is over 10%. Our parents and grandparents are in danger. They need our help.

Therefore, the State of Israel and our entire population must unite in our mission to properly protect the older members of our society.

Protecting our elderly does not mean abandoning them. The “Honor Your Father and Mother” operation requires that younger family members who are providing medical care to their elderly relatives take extreme care not to expose themselves to the virus. For those who do not have family looking after them, we must leverage Israel’s unique “social capital” to recruit volunteers from across the country. This will ensure that the elderly receive proper care without needing to travel to medical centers or hospitals (which can be hotbeds of infection). These actions and this proposed operation will allow our country to survive this medical tsunami with minimal loss.

Ask yourself the following question — if the government and healthcare system leaders in Italy could produce a miracle and move the clocks back four, six or eight weeks from today, what would they have done differently?

The answer is clear. They would work with maximum urgency and to the utmost of their capabilities to protect those most at risk.

We must be emboldened to make these courageous, and difficult, decisions. If our leadership acts now, we can mitigate the suffering of tens of thousands of people

Together we can do this.

About the Author
Dr. Yair Schindel, M.D. is the Managing Partner and co-founder of aMoon, a global HealthTech VC fund based in Israel. Previously, Dr. Schindel served as the founding CEO of the State of Israel’s National Digital Bureau, responsible for digitizing governmental services and stimulating economic growth. He is the founder of the MAOZ Network, an NGO building collaboration between Israel’s most influential leaders, with over 300 alumni dedicated to building collaboration between the private, social and public sectors. Dr. Schindel was an executive, investor, board or advisory board member in several healthcare startups including OmniGuide, Zebra Medical Vision, and Medisafe. Dr. Schindel earned his BSc and MD degrees at Ben-Gurion University and his MBA at Harvard Business School. He served in the IDF for five years and graduated as Chief Medical Officer for the Israeli Navy Seals, known as “Shayetet 13”.
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