Coronavirus: Israel Response
March 9, 2020
The Jerusalem Post —While “better safe than sorry” has been the guiding principle for Israel’s public health authorities, some have questioned the restrictions which are almost unparalleled in severity.
“As we continue to move ahead, we know more about this disease,” he told the Post. “We understand that it is worse than the regular influenza, but less so than SARS. We want to take the right measures, and we can now see that other countries are taking similar measures related to containment.”
While several citizens have tested positive and “imported” the virus after returning from abroad, Israel is “still in the early containment stage,” Davidovitch said. Once there is greater local transmission, then other measures are likely to be implemented, including wider testing for the coronavirus at community-based sentinel sites, he said.
“These sentinels will be very effective to know if there is high transmission within the community,” Davidovitch said. “But we are not there yet. We are still quite successful in the very early stage of containment, as we don’t have widespread community transmission.”
While measures including preventing entry to visitors from certain countries are justified when still in the early stages of containment, the economic impact of such decisions means that they “can only be taken for a certain amount of time,” he said.
Ultimately, the main idea of the measures is to “earn time to continue and prepare for the next stage,” Davidovitch said. Once Israel enters into the stage of widespread community transmission, which is “likely to arrive,” the burden will increasingly fall upon the healthcare system and the hospitals.
Haaretz — Prof. Zvi Bentwich, M.D., is the director of Ben-Gurion University’s Center for Emerging Diseases, Tropical Diseases and AIDS. He recommends the authorities dial back a hard-hitting and economically damaging policy and ease public concerns about an illness whose risks seem similar to those of regular flu.
In an opinion piece in Haaretz called “Time to Quit Fearing Coronavirus” on February 27, he writes:
Although the information gathered so far is limited and certainly meager in comparison to the knowledge that has been amassed regarding “regular” flu epidemics, several clear observations that characterize important components of the current disease have already been made. Firstly, the cause of the illness that has been discerned belongs to the corona family, familiar to us from the two SARS epidemics of 2002 and 2012 that were caused by other viruses from this family.
What these viruses have in common is that they hone in on lung tissue, hence the main manifestation of the illness in the respiratory system and its airborne transmission. Also, according to a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the mortality rate from the current disease ranges from 0.5 to 2 percent, and is significantly lower than the mortality rate from the 2002 SARS outbreak (9.5 percent) and much lower than the 2012 SARS outbreak (34.4 percent). It may even be close to the mortality rate from an ordinary flu outbreak in the United States.
What are the immediate conclusions to be drawn from these observations? There are no longer grounds to fear a virulent epidemic that threatens the whole world and will cause widespread illness and death. It is quite likely that the current epidemic will behave like a flu epidemic with which we’re familiar and will run its course within a few months, even though the infection rate may remain high since the current virus is highly contagious.
These conclusions have clear implications for current policy. Since no significant danger is anticipated, there is no longer any justification for the very extreme and difficult health policy that is vastly different than the policy applied in the event of a “regular” flu epidemic.
Moreover, the ease of transmission of the virus, due to its particular characteristics, means the drastic measures presently being taken to quarantine patients and cancel public activities have little chance of success, though such steps are causing enormous economic damage, spreading anxiety and seriously harming the public welfare.
The health authorities ought to reassess the current policy and focus their efforts on increased use of the standard preventive measures – hand-washing, wearing masks and encouraging people who are ill to stay home. At the same time, we should welcome publication of further explanatory information, one important aim of this being to reduce the level of fear of the disease.
While it is too soon to sum up the story of the new coronavirus, this outbreak will surely be studied in the future as an example of the extensive implementation of a drastic world health policy. In my estimation, the main lesson that will be drawn from this episode is that drastic measures should be employed in a much more cautious and measured manner, and only after evidence has accumulated of significant danger on a greater scale.
Until then, the standard measures for preventing the spread of infectious diseases should be used. Just as important is the message that people should no longer fear the coronavirus.