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Israel media review

A shot in every pot: What the press is saying on December 15

The country is gearing up for a half-lockdown and a vaccine drive, with case numbers only topped by how many VIPs are clamoring to cut the vaccine line and be ‘personal examples’

Dry ice is poured into a box containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as it is prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)
Dry ice is poured into a box containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as it is prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Michigan, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

1. Highway to tightened restraint: The coronavirus crisis is front and center in the media world Tuesday morning, as the Health Ministry announces that over 2,000 new cases were recorded Monday.

  • Several news outlets note that the number of new cases is the highest it has been in some two months, when Israel was still under lockdown but as infection figures slackened from their late September high of nearly 9,000 a day.
  • But more than looking back, news outlets are looking ahead to the restrictions that are seemingly just around the corner.
  • “The infection figures point to nearing the threshold set by the coronavirus cabinet for implementing tightened restraint,” reports Walla news, referring to a quasi-lockdown scheme that will shut some businesses.
  • “I expect we’ll find ourselves in tightened restraint soon,” Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Army Radio, adding that restrictions will focus on businesses and the education system.
  • Despite being only a few hundred cases shy of the 2,500 daily infection figure that will trigger those restrictions, Channel 12 news reports that experts at the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center believe Israel will only cross the mark at the end of the month.
  • Some aren’t waiting that long. Ynet reports that 89 cities are marked as either red or orange, the two highest infection levels according to the government’s color-coded rating system, with a decision expected Wednesday on shutting schools for fifth grade and up in any area marked with the scarlet (or slightly less scarlet) letter.

2. Blame it on everyone: As for who is to responsible, there is more than enough finger-pointing to go around.

  • “The situation at the airport is a scandal,” senior Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy-Preis tells Kan. “There’s massive crowding there, and it’s not justified because the number of passengers is known ahead of time. We’re 10 days out from tightened restraint.”
  • “The main infection zone is in the homes,” deputy coronavirus czar Ayman Seiff, who handles the Arab community, tells Army Radio. “Infected people are going home, not keeping isolation guidelines and infecting their relatives.”
  • “The lockdowns are a charade,” Haaretz’s Meirav Arlosoroff writes. “Other than creating traffic problems, the lockdowns accomplish almost nothing. Movement within the communities continues nearly unabated. Commercial activity remains entirely open, and anyone who really wants to leave finds a way of doing so. The lockdowns are full of holes and don’t help reduce the incidence of infection. It’s a fact that there are Arab communities that have been in lockdown for weeks without a decline in infection rates.”
  • It’s the feeling that vaccines are coming, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash tells Yedioth Ahronoth, in an interview splashed across its front: “It influences the public atmosphere, and I fear that it is also affecting decision-making. We see the end so there’s less compliance with guidelines.”

3. Very Important Personal example: Vaccines are indeed on the way, with the Health Ministry saying it will move up the start of the campaign to December 23, but don’t expect to get one unless you are a VIP.

  • The first person to be vaccinated will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, bless his brave soul, who will get the shot days before anyone else, on Saturday night, according to Channel 12 news, followed by medical personnel and then finally those in high risk groups.
  • It’s not just Netanyahu cutting the line. Israel Hayom, which has essentially become a PR campaign for the vaccines, reports on what it calls “the first battle for the minds,” with brave leaders and celebrities lining up to get vaccinated before everyone else, which will apparently convince all those opposed to getting vaccinated to change their ways.
  • “We’ll get footage of them getting vaccinated to help TV, social media, digital and sectoral campaigns,” the head of the Health Ministry’s PR department tells the paper. “We’re getting calls from scientists, TV presenters, journalists and celebrities who are ready to vaccinate on air, singers, famous people and influencers. Including influencers from the golden years.”
  • Ash tells Yedioth that there are others who actually want to get vaccinated as well.
  • “The truth is I’m happily surprised — there have been several requests from mayors, CEOs of large businesses and others who actually want to come and be a personal example. I have yet to meet somebody who does not want to be vaccinated,” he’s quoted saying.
  • As to why he is surprised that people want to be first for a lifesaving medicine, and why, if he hasn’t met a single person against taking it the country still has to pour resources into a campaign to convince the supposed masses who will only get vaccinated once the CEO of some company does, he does not explain (and is not asked).
  • Several reports have indicated that it’s the promise of a green passport, allowing travel outside the country without worry of quarantine, that will push many to vaccinate, but Health Ministry deputy director Itamar Grotto tells Walla news that the plan may need to be scrapped.
  • “There’s a problem of if the world will recognize the green passport. I’m a member of the WHO and we are putting together a plan that will be adopted in other countries as well, since right now you need two tests to enter another country and we want to give the vaccinated a free pass.”

4. You get a shot, you get a shot: But not to worry, commoner. Army Radio reports that so many vaccine doses are here or on the way — 3 million — that plans are being drawn up for who will get vaccinated once the high-riskers get their shots.

  • “There are discussions, we’ll make a decision soon. The number of doses is higher than the first high-risk group expected to vaccinate,” Grotto tells the station, confirming the report.
  • Channel 13 reports that after the high-risk group is vaccinated, shots will be given out according to age.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel also writes about the surfeit of vaccines and gives a rosy outlook: “Israel is in a better position to conduct a national vaccination campaign than many other countries. The population is relatively small and the distance between the ‘periphery’ and the central cities is scant. There is also a logistical system that can store and transport the vaccines even at the extreme temperatures required by the Pfizer vaccine. Israelis generally respond well to vaccination campaigns and most of all, the HMO system is accessible, effective and more experienced than those of other countries in coping with large numbers of people.”
  • Not jumping the gun at all, Channel 12 news reports that so many people could end up getting vaccinated and creating herd immunity so fast that it may mess up the development of the Israeli vaccine. Former Health Minister director Gal Barbash tells the station that the local effort should just be shelved in any case: “There’s no upside to Israel developing the vaccine against large firms with years of know-how. … this is an unnecessary waste of resources, especially now as we see the global picture.”

5. Shot in the dark: Despite the campaign to make sure every important person is vaccinated first to show the rest of us the light, Israel Hayom columnist Ran Reznik accuses the Health Ministry of “leaving open until now, and for a long period of several months, in a destructive manner, the public and media arena to be totally taken over with false information about conspiracy theories, including by a group of doctors who spread baseless information which has severely hurt public trust.”

  • Perhaps he is referring to Ran Balicer, an oft quoted public health expert who advises the government and who tells Channel 13 that “ the danger of long-term side effects exists, because it has not been studied for long term. We can’t ignore that.”
  • “But against this theoretical danger is the definite danger of serious infection, including among younger people,” he adds. “Plus, for most of the side effects that can occur, chances are even higher that they would be caused by the virus itself.”
  • One community especially prone to both following the leader and to avoiding vaccines is the ultra-Orthodox, and both Kan and Walla broadcast video showing unsuccessful efforts by health officials to convince rabbis to join the pro-vaxxing drive.
  • Rabbi Yehudah Silman, the head of a prominent rabbinical court, is heard telling Chezy Levy and Nachman Ash that they prefer to sit out the first round of vaccinations, due to fears about long-term effects.
  • “You well know that a four-month study does not rule out the possibility that there may be long-term problems,” Silman says.
  • Kan also reports that even health maintenance organizations are concerned and are threatening to delay vaccinating patients unless the state agrees to indemnify them against tort suits should people get sick from the vaccination.
  • “If the state doesn’t take responsibility — we won’t inoculate a single person,” a source in one of the HMOs says. “We can’t take on that risk, we’re a commercial interest — we’ll collapse.”
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