01 June 2020

Jerusalem Post Editorial June 1

Coronavirus never went away, but it can be kept under control

The spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Israel over the weekend – centering mainly around students from Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia – is cause for concern but not for panic.
From the outset of the coronavirus crisis, the policy was to “flatten the curve” – to keep the numbers down to prevent overwhelming the health system.

The lockdown in Israel was successful in that sense. Although it came at a huge economic – and psychological – cost, keeping people at home managed to stop the numbers spiraling out of control. It also bought the country time, which was well used to obtain more equipment, train staff and learn more about this very tricky virus. Hence, Israel today is not in the same position it was in March, at the beginning of the outbreak in the country. We are no longer in a crisis situation.

Now we must learn how to cope with living with it. The focus now needs to be on identifying and isolating cases quickly. Former defense minister Naftali Bennett, who has favored greater testing all along, tweeted on Sunday: “The prime minister declared at the time, under my urging, that the target should be 30,000 tests a day. This was not realized or implemented.”

The Jerusalem Municipality said that, in total, 2,168 people were screened for the novel virus over Shavuot and Shabbat.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting that “the Health Ministry is able to perform 15,000 tests per day,” and he urged “all citizens – if you think you are sick, or have any symptoms, or you think you were near a sick person – get it checked out.”

There is no need to close all the schools in the country because of an outbreak in a specific school in Jerusalem. There is a need to monitor those who came in contact with the pupils from the affected school – their families, friends from youth groups, etc.

It is likely that there are a large number of asymptomatic carriers – particularly among children and youths – who are spreading the disease without knowing they are infected. Increased testing could help find these carriers, alongside analysis of where the infected people were, who they spent time with, and who came into contact with them.

Also, there needs to be more testing to find those who have already had corona and recovered. These people could help build herd immunity and possibly donate lifesaving plasma to help others in critical condition.

Increased testing helps in more ways than identifying individuals who are already ill. The greater the amount of testing, the more information the experts have to make informed decisions. This would enable the necessary steps to be taken in specific geographic locations, for example. It would also prevent the spread of a serious side effect of COVID-19 – fear.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah-University Medical Center, a firm supporter of greater testing, criticized the Healthy Ministry in an interview on KAN Radio’s Reshet Bet on Sunday, accusing it of preventing Gymnasia students from being tested at the Hadassah facilities, even though the coronavirus testing labs are working at 10% capacity. If testing had been carried out as he recommended, he said, the outbreak in Jerusalem could have been prevented.

Israel has the capability to increase its testing and epidemiological analysis. It’s simply a matter of setting that as the policy and allocating the resources needed to make it happen.

The ministry yesterday reiterated “the three ironclad rules” for public safety in the corona age: wearing a mask in public spaces and workplaces; adhering to good hygiene; and maintaining two meters between people.

Everyone can take these preventive steps and should take them – for their own sake and to help those populations at greater risk, the elderly and those with existing health conditions.

Coronavirus did not return; it never went away. But it can be kept under control. Wearing a mask and maintaining a distance can help keep the numbers in check, and greater testing will help identify and isolate cases quickly. Together, these measures can help break the chain of infection and allow the country to continue its return to a nearly normal routine.

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