Two months ago, Covid-19 was starting to seem like a dim memory. Around the world, Israel was garnering praise for the way in which it had dealt with the greatest health crisis the world has known in recent years, with a plunging graph of infections and life getting back to normal. The public made great sacrifices during the lockdown, but it seemed that Israel had extricated itself from the health crisis and could turn its attention to dealing with the economic crisis that came in its wake. In the past few weeks, however, the daily numbers of new patients have been rising steeply, even relative to other countries.
1,300 new infections were identified last Thursday, and the average number of confirmed patients last week was 822 a day, more than the numbers at the height of the first wave. Israel is now gripped by a second wave, at a time when the situation in other countries is stabilizing. The OECD examined the number of additional cases per million people on July 3 in the various countries in comparison with the number on April 19, the day on which in Israel economic activity started to resume. At the end of the lockdown, Israel had 32.696 additional cases per million inhabitants, which was a good figure in relation to other countries – better than in Norway, Switzerland, Canada, the Netherlands, and Portugal, for example.
But the comparison for last Friday, the latest date for which global figures are available, shows a reversal: Israel is second in the world for new cases per million inhabitants, after the US. 148.46 cases per million inhabitants were added on Friday, which compares with 130.674 in Chile, where the pandemic has spread rapidly; 93.769 in Sweden; 15.322 in Austria; 10.096 in France; 5.323 in Germany; and 2.494 in Greece.
Israel lacks an effective epidemiological system for breaking the chain of infection quickly. A rise in infection rates after economies were reopened was foreseen all around the world, and so it turned out, but after lockdown, countries geared up for rapid identification of the infection chain, and for breaking it. There was also readiness to draw back, as necessary, from steps that led to more widespread infection.
Israel has no effective apparatus for breaking the chain of infection. There has been a substantial rise in daily testing numbers, and conditions for receiving a test have been eased, so that more infected people can be identified. At the same time, measures to deal with the situation have been delayed. Mass events take place in closed places, with participants eating together and dancing, represent a significant source of infection around the world. The Israeli government is expected to restrict the number of participants allowed at such events, but only after the disease has already become widespread in the community, and the existing apparatus is struggling to halt it.
Researchers: Israel has only days in which to avoid a lockdown
Israel has at present more than eleven thousand Covid-19 patients. Of these, 86 are hospitalized in severe condition, and 78 in less critical condition. The number of those being respirated is volatile. Yesterday morning, the number fell by three. It is estimated that the current trend will shortly lead to a rise in the number of severe cases and in the number of people being artificially respirated. If the rate of increase of infections is maintained, the number of patients in Israel will double within ten days. Most of the patients in the current wave of the virus are, however, young, and young people tend to have mild symptoms.
According to analysis by a team of researchers from the Racah Institute of Physics and the Braun School of Public Health at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is monitoring the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, at the current rate of increase, within two weeks the deterioration will be such that the health system will not be able to cope, and a complete lockdown will become necessary. They say that there is a short window of a few days to prevent a situation of hundreds of patients on ventilators.
The researchers say that the rise in the rate of infections can be halted by stopping events with large numbers of participants, particularly in closed spaces. Since, however, a patient who is hospitalized was infected about ten days previously, the rise in the number of patients in hospitals in the next ten days is unavoidable, and the effect of halting the trend now will be manifest only ten days after measures are put into effect.
“All gatherings in closed spaces, and even in open spaces, must immediately and urgently cease. At any event at which there is dancing, there is no social distancing,” says Prof. Ronit Calderon, a professor of epidemiology and an expert on public health, who was one of the team that carried out the analysis. “We have to think about the economy, psychological health, and other health elements – coronavirus isn’t everything – but the rapid rise in infections must be halted.”
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on July 6, 2020
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