How did Israel go in a little over a week from getting the economy back from COVID-19 is going to be a long, arduous process to suddenly the haphazard, frenzied push to open up businesses and “get the economy moving again.” It sounds like the words come directly from the playbook of Fox News, and some of the Red State governors who have been ignoring their advisors — “We have to open the economy. No more letting the health department make decisions for us. Schools need to be opened right away, and the economy is more important than a few lives.”
It’s not solely the right-wing making these zealous comments, although Naftali Bennet has been outspoken on the matter. Nitzan Hurwitz, the head of Meretz, has insisted schools should open next week. The head of the Histadrut labor union Eytan Halon wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “We need to return all sectors to 100% capacity as quickly as possible. It is not healthy that employees are sitting at home,” he maintained. And the government has been responding, calling for the reopening of stores, and even planning to permit Barber shops and hair salons to reopen. Does anyone really need to get a haircut next week? Is that worth the risk of spreading the coronavirus infection?
Where is the science behind these demands? What milestones have been met that suggest we embrace greater openness? Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Health said the number of new cases would need to decrease to 10 per day before it would be safe to begin to reopen the economy. (Note: Australia had three new cases this past Wednesday). Now, many are saying the goal of 10 was unrealistic, and in its place, the number 100 cases per day was floated. However, yesterday, we still had close to 300 new cases.
Where is Israel’s scientific panel, like the one established by German Chancellor Angela Merkel; or a committee, like the one convened in New York State?
To date, Israel has no coordinated oversight. Instead, we have a cabinet that meets between 2 am–7 am to make decisions; decisions that are often so unclear they require multiple interpretations before they can be implemented.
We have an absurd situation here, in which various government functionaries, representing various ministries, (e.g., Finance, Health, Defense, or Education) get on TV and pitch their point of views — not to a committee in charge, or even the cabinet, but to the TV audience — theoretically, so that viewers then pressure the politicians. This is profoundly dysfunctional.
The Ministry of Education has been pushing to open the schools in one week. In the US, most schools have been canceled for the rest of the year. The leadership of our schools are still worried about HS Bagrut (Matriculation Exams); while American colleges have begun to announce they will wave SAT and ACT exams for incoming applicants.
An absurd idea has been circulating that if we protect those 65 and older, or all those with high blood pressure, diabetes, and other immunocompromised individuals, the virus will remain under control. Do those proponents suggest the aforementioned citizens refrain from going outside, walking their dogs, entering any stores, seeing children and grandchildren for the rest of the year? Oh, and those who need to work — will they receive Manna from heaven, while they sit quietly at home?
I understand the concerns of all those pushing to reopen the economy. So many of us are not sure how we will financially get through the next few months, if the quarantine continues to continue. However, a good deal of the problem lies with the inadequate response of our government. Our government made big promises — i.e., a 90-billion-shekel economic program. Yet, more than six weeks into the coronavirus crisis, that same government has dispersed less than 10% of that sum.
The US government provided direct, interest-free loans to businesses that turn into grants. In contrast, the Israeli government guaranteed 85% of loans from banks, who are too wary of credit risks to loan funds to those who really need the money. Furthermore, Israel’s government is just now working on figuring out how to properly compensate the self-employed.
Everyone wants to get back to work. Everyone wants to forget this dark chapter in history. However, the virus has no concern for what we want. The coronavirus will attack and, in some cases, kill, until we either isolate it, vaccinate against it, or find a cure. In Israel, we were headed towards isolating this virus, but it appears we’ve lost the will to do so.
Israel was doing very well fighting the coronavirus — maybe not as well as Taiwan, or New Zealand, but we were clearly headed in the right direction. Prime Minister Netanyahu made many correct decisions early on, e.g., when he suspended flights and tried to protect us from the spread throughout the world. However, he and our other leaders take no questions and choose not to explain their actions. If there is a clear-cut plan, that information has not been shared. An impatient nation is expected to sit back and silently follow.
Now, an impatient nation and a dysfunctional government might be on the verge of throwing away our initial success and letting the virus win. “Exiting too soon is like thinking you can cut your parachute at 2,000 feet because it slowed you down,” said Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington.
This is not the time to cut the parachute. Rather, this is the time to show fortitude to bring this pandemic under control. The government must act to provide the aid it promised, and present a clear roadmap, based on science and not wishful thinking, detailing how we go forward. Also, me and my fellow Israelis need to learn how to be patient; something that does not come to us naturally.