Experts debate necessity of corona lockdown as it's about to begin
29 December 2020 - The jerusalem post
A group of doctors and medical experts, some of whom held senior positions in the Health Ministry, have expressed great opposition to entering the lockdown.
Medical experts remained divided as Israel prepared to enter its third lockdown on Sunday regarding its necessity and effectiveness.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash and Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy both started the day by giving radio interviews and explaining why imposing a lockdown now is important.
Past experience had proved that a lockdown goes a long way in combating the spread of the virus, Levy told Army Radio.
"I really think that we exited the previous lockdown too soon; the reality completely turned on us," he said Sunday morning, adding that exiting the lockdown led to a direct surge of "morbidity rates, reproduction rates and the number of patients in serious condition."
Addressing an interview given by coronavirus committee chairwoman MK Yifat Shasha-Biton to N12 on Saturday, when she said the "lockdown is clearly political" and that she "couldn't find any explanation why we're entering another lockdown," Ash told 103 FM Radio he did not know why the MK would say that, stressing that "the lockdown is not political. We don't have a choice."
On the other hand, a group of doctors and medical experts who have convened to establish the National Public Emergency Committee for the Coronavirus Pandemic, some of whom held senior positions in the Health Ministry, have strongly opposed the lockdown concept and questioned its benefits.
"Members of the government were presented with problematic facts that have led to an unnecessary lockdown," the group said Sunday in a letter to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which must approve the lockdown directives. It demanded that the decision be revoked.
The letter mentions various clauses in the document that the committee must approve before the government can implement the lockdown and questions their reliability by providing alternate facts and explanations that appear to contradict the need for a lockdown.
The letter cites a clause that states: “While the vaccination campaign is underway, it will take several months for vaccines to influence the scope of morbidity rates.”
Data published by the FDA shows that the process will not take too long, experts said, adding that “most of the at-risk population will be vaccinated in less than a month.”
Another point refers to hospitals and their ability to cope with the rising morbidity rates. The letter questions a clause that states: “Some hospitals are already under a lot of pressure,” adding that “the burden during the month of December is not only low; it’s exceptionally low.”
The experts stressed the grave economic implications a lockdown will cause, saying that the “price will be equivalent to the establishment of more than 10 big hospitals.”
“There is a significant gap between the reality and the situation described in the document calling for a lockdown,” they said in the letter and called on the committee not to approve “this devastating and needless lockdown.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein chose to focus on other aspects when addressing the national campaign to vaccinate as much of the population as possible, which completed its first week on Sunday.
“We’re completing the first week of coronavirus vaccinations with an unbelievable number of 280,000 vaccinated people,” he tweeted, adding that 71,000 were vaccinated during the weekend alone. “We’ll continue to keep Israel safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Sunday told Magen David Adom, the national emergency medical service, not to send coronavirus patients to Jerusalem hospitals to help alleviate the pressure they are under.
Patients from the Jerusalem area were sent to hospitals in central Israel starting Sunday, including Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus Hospital in Petah Tikva and the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv.
42% of Israelis do not believe third lockdown will be the last
Some 42% of Israelis do not believe that the third lockdown will be the last they will have to endure, according to a new poll conducted by N12 as Israel entered its third coronavirus lockdown on Sunday evening.
At the same time, 33% reported that they believe it will be the last lockdown to occur in the country, while 25% said they do not know.
N12 also conducted a poll asking Israelis if they blame the government for Israel having to go into a third lockdown. Out of the participants, 54% hold the government accountable, whereas 41% do not and 5% reported that they do not know.
Last week, leading health experts in the country called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coronavirus cabinet to change the way the nation is dealing with the pandemic and to refuse a third lockdown.
The committee included Prof. Mordechai Shani, formally director general of Sheba Medical Center, and former president of Ben-Gurion University Prof. Rivka Carmi.
Nonetheless, medical experts do not have any authority to determine policy, hence government authorities have moved forward with the third lockdown, regardless of the advice the committee offered.
Businesses face third lockdown: 'There will be riots in the streets'
About 7,500 businesses will be forced to close, on top of 75,000 that have already been shuttered in 2020.
Business owners are seething with rage, and some are threatening resistance, as the country entered its third lockdown of the year on Sunday.
The Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel have each estimated that the lockdown, which began at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, will cost the economy NIS 2.5 billion, or NIS 3b. per week, while the Manufacturers Association has calculated a cost of NIS 7.7b. per week.
About 7,500 businesses will be forced to close, on top of the 75,000 that have already been shuttered in 2020, according to an analysis by CofaceBdi.
The businesses that will bear the brunt of that are outraged.
“I don’t think stores will be closing down during this lockdown,” said Ilan Ben-Harosh, an activist for the business community who owns an electronics store in the center of Jerusalem. “People cooperated in the first and second lockdowns. But everyone sees this as a political move, calculated by people making NIS 50,000 a month in the Knesset. I’m afraid there will be riots in the streets, even bloodshed.”
“We see how the large supermarket chains like Shufersal and Rami Levy are allowed to continue to operate, selling everything we sell on their websites, taking all of our clients, while we are left to die,” he said. “People aren’t going to cooperate because they have nothing left to lose anymore.”
“The pandemic is terrible, but I don’t see any reason to close down all the businesses,” Ben-Harosh said. “Leave us alone to work with our masks, with our alcogel. It can’t continue this way anymore.”
Keren Tennenbaum from the Golan Heights was furious as she prepared to close down her restaurant again for the lockdown.
“Over the last 10 months we have been open for only about two months,” she said. “The rules keep changing. First one lockdown, then another. Sometimes takeaway was allowed, sometimes not. Our restaurant has a large open garden, but you aren’t allowed to sit here. So I’m expected to tell people to take their food and go sit in the park nearby instead of in my garden. It’s a joke.”
How is Tennenbaum going to handle the lockdown?
“The government isn’t going to break me so quickly,” she laughed, before turning serious. “But I’m going to close the restaurant for now. I don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Nurit Schechter, an event organizer in Shoham, expressed similar sentiments.
“There is no logic to this lockdown,” she said. “We have closed our business and then made massive efforts to reopen. We have done everything possible to comply with the rules, but we are discriminated against. Everyone understands that this comes due to personal interests and political calculations, not health considerations. The small businesses that have no official representation are cast aside.”
Schechter is one of the organizers of Tachles, a community dedicated to strengthening the position of Israel’s small businesses. The organization has organized more than 60 protests around the country and is now forming a political party that will run for the next Knesset.
“We need to come together to have strength in the government,” she said.