Amid a recent surge of cases, Israel’s government is facing increasing pressure to lock down the economy once again. Israel had thought to have been among the leading nations in the fight against Covid-19, but many experts warned the economic price paid far exceeded the health benefit. But as was the case in the US, the Coronavirus pandemic became as much political as a health crisis. The same all-out assault on President Trump by the left and the media is being repeated in Israel against Prime Minister Netanyahu.
In mid-March, with no government in place, Prime Minister Netanyahu began to institute restrictions to stem the spread of Covid-19. On March 19th, 2020, Netanyahu declared a state of emergency restricting citizens from leaving their homes, except for essential travel. The impact was immediate, and infections were limited to 16,000 and deaths just over 200. Israel was praised for its efforts by many, but the impact on the economy was devastating. Though the official monthly unemployment statistics remained relatively low, joblessness reached an estimated 25-30%.
On May 4th, the government began lifting restrictions gradually, and on May 17th a coalition government was formed. It appeared Israel had weathered the crisis. There were those who warned otherwise. “Lockdown is lunacy,” Prof. Yoram Lass, a member of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s impossible to stop a virus by government decree.”
Others, like Professor Michael Levitt, Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford University, in an early May interview with Freddie Sayers on UnHerd commented , “I think the policy of herd immunity is the right policy. I think Britain was on exactly the right track before they were fed wrong numbers. And they made a huge mistake. I see the standout winners as Germany and Sweden. They didn’t practice too much lockdown and they got enough people sick to get some herd immunity. I see the standout losers as countries like Austria, Australia and Israel that had very strict lockdowns but didn’t have many cases. They have damaged their economies, caused massive social damage, damaged the educational year of their children, but not obtained any herd immunity. There is no doubt in my mind, that when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdowns will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor.”
As predicted by both these experts, and others, the infections came roaring back. Was it a second wave or were the aforementioned experts right? From May 4th until July 6th infections doubled to 32,000, forcing Netanyahu and his coalition partners to once again impose restrictions on public activities. And since then, cases again increased fourfold to 130,000 by September 6th. Having expended its economic capital in the first lockdown, Netanyahu was forced to stay the course. Dr. Lass had warned it could not be stopped. Professor Levitt had lamented the economic impact for no gain.
Throughout July, the Israeli Left took advantage of Netanyahu’s perceived weak response to Covid-19. His approval on handling the crisis peaked at 74%, but by early August that number had plummeted to 31%. Thousands protested outside his residence daily. For years, the Left and the media have attacked Netanyahu. He has been investigated time and again for corruption, yet nothing has ever stuck. They believe this could finally be the cause that could bring him, and his nationalist government down.
As of September 7th, harder hit areas with higher infection rates are again being restricted. Curfews have been reinstated. Schools are restricted or closed. Damage is being done again done to small businesses and the economy, limited this time to specific areas but damaging, nonetheless. These restrictions are political. Netanyahu had no choice or face a political backlash. It goes against all science at this point. Statistically, Israel is still doing fine. The infection rate may have spiked but in truth, there is no way to stop this virus from spreading. It might be argued the original lockdown gave time to develop treatments. In fact, it only delayed the inevitable.
Despite the fear and panic caused by the media, social and traditional, there is no excess mortality due to Covid-19. Year over year total deaths in Israel are down. There are less of traditional respiratory deaths. Fewer drivers are on the roads, hence fewer traffic deaths. The current recovery rate among coronavirus cases is 99.2%. The median age of those who died is 84. All these are signs that something more than science is driving decision making in Israel. Every decision or non-decision made by Netanyahu is spun by the media and hyped by social media. Making people fearful and destroying their livelihood will used by his opposition to drive him from office. Sounds familiar to most Americans.
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