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Israel media review

Comeback COVID: What the press says about masking faces and looking for Jews

A renewed face covering mandate comes with assurances that things probably won’t get too much worse. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Florida tower collapse victims

Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis wear protective face masks as they walk in Tel Aviv on March 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

1. Mask-a-million: The looming return of Israel’s indoor mask mandate  dominates the print headlines in Israel’s major news outlets Friday as the figurative collapse of Israel’s coronavirus-free utopia, alongside coverage of the literal collapse of a Miami condominium tower where a number of Jews and possibly Israelis are feared dead.

  • “Starting Sunday, masks required in closed spaces,” reads the top headline in Israel Hayom.
  • Or maybe sooner. Kan, which on Thursday quoted coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying that one does not need to wait to start masking up again and should do so right away, on Friday has him saying that maybe authorities will just start the new requirement today. This comes as the station reports that Thursday saw over 200 confirmed cases — “the first time that has happened in a month and a half.”
  • Kan also notes that health officials are already talking next steps, with limits on gatherings waiting on deck should the mask mandate fail to bring down infections. Health expert Ran Balicer tells the station that more localized restrictions are likely, but probably not another nationwide lockdown.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, meanwhile, is moving way ahead, running as a front page headline: “Readying for widespread breakout. The masks are coming back.”
  • Count the paper’s health correspondent Sarit Rosenblum among those happy to see some action being taken, noting that many workplaces and other sites are already requiring masks, including the building next to hers, where a sign went up this week requiring face coverings. “The elderly Mrs. Cohen on the fourth floor has gone ahead and figured out, it seems, what the leaders of the country still can’t understand: Coronavirus is here again, and we need to get in front and hit it with all our might, before it comes back and hits us.”
  • Israel Hayom levels an even harsher attack on the government, running a column by Ran Reznick attacking the Health Ministry for its “rushed, dangerous … and now it seems unforgivable” decision to lift the mask mandate. He also attacks new Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz for “not showing any leadership or charisma toward the public in explaining the crisis and instructing the public to listen to health officials.”
  • Channel 13 reports that health officials let hundreds of people hired for epidemiological investigations go, and are now unable to effectively contact trace with the new outbreak. “The situation is a catastrophe,” one of the few remaining investigators tells the channel.
  • The channel also reports that a drive to vaccinate teens 12-15 is stalling — only 4% have gotten the shot, it says — attributing at least some of the fears to parents worrying about fertility. The channel cites several studies showing that the vaccine does not affect fertility.
  • As for the effectiveness of the vaccine, after Health Ministry director Chezy Levy tells Kan that some 40 to 50 percent of those being infected were vaccinated, Haaretz notes that “a senior official with Pfizer Israel says that the company’s vaccine is 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic coronavirus cases, and 95 percent effective in preventing serious cases that require hospitalization. However, the [effectiveness] of the vaccine in preventing infection and transmission is still unclear.”

2. A little COVID never hurt anybody: Several news sites covering the outbreak note that despite mounting case numbers, hospitalization rates are staying low.

  • “Despite the uptick in cases, the number of hospitalizations have not budged,” says Ynet, noting that 52 people are hospitalized with the virus nationwide.
  • “Coronavirus wards are empty,” reports Channel 12 news. “The situation now is far from what it was half a year ago, at the height of the pandemic. Then, 20% of towns in Israel were red, 30% orange and 30% yellow. The chances of returning to a broad outbreak like that, even now, are low.”
  • The station also publishes leaked comments from Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton accusing the Health Ministry of blowing the whole thing out of proportion. “There are officials in the healthcare system who are deliberately spreading hysteria and intimidation,” she is quoted as having said.
  • Kan’s Nov Reuveni notes that in the last week, only four people were hospitalized in serious condition, and only one of those was under 18. “The figure is encouraging, but it’s not recommended to rest on our laurels. Even though most of the new cases are among kids and youths who usually have it easy, if the disease continues to spread and the numbers rise, the number of hospitalizations and seriously ill will also go up.”
  • Dr. Tal Brosh tells Army Radio that “getting rid of the masks in closed spaces was not a mistake. I think the chances of another large outbreak or serious spread and deaths are low.”

3. Find the Jews: The press is also keeping a close eye on the building collapse in Miami, with the story leading several news sites late Thursday and early Friday.

  • As noted by JTA: “As the United States woke up to news of the building collapse in Surfside, Florida, it quickly became clear that the disaster is an American Jewish tragedy.”
  • The number of Jews thought to be missing varies wildly between news sites. On the low end is Haaretz, which reports that nearly a dozen Jews are missing. On the other end, the Sun-Sentinel quotes a local rabbi saying there are at least 34 Jews among the 99 missing under the rubble.
  • Several Hebrew news sites put the number at “around 20,” without attribution, and the Associated Press notes that “Israeli media said the country’s consul-general in Miami, Maor Elbaz, believes that 20 citizens of that country are missing.”
  • Channel 12 also asserts that the town of Surfside has 2,500 Orthodox Jews out of a population of 6,000, a number that is not attributed (and would be strange for a city to keep) but appears to come from local Chabad Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, who is cited giving the figure in a 2018 article in Vice’s Munchies minisite about an unkosher deli there.
  • Walla quotes an unnamed “local source” who says the building was constructed by a Jewish Canadian developer, and that according to the source, some 90% of the condos were owned by Jews. The site reports that 18 Chabad members are among the missing and “the number of Jews in general is probably higher.”
  • The true number, it seems, is too many. Jews and non-Jews alike. Yossi Dahan of United Hatzalah, which is helping rescue efforts, tells Kan that he knows some of the names on the list of missing, and that “the building had lots of Jews.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio several hours later, Dahan says that “several groups are working in crews to find the missing among the rubble, but we haven’t found anyone alive.”
  • Speaking to Ynet, Elbaz is equally morose: “The atmosphere here is very pessimistic,” she says. “This is a very tragic event … we are talking with relatives of the missing about the possibility of bringing an Israeli search and rescue team.”
  • A consulate spokesperson tells ToI that while it has already offered search and rescue help to local authorities, it has yet to get an answer.
  • Israelis could have been helping for a while already, it seems. Professor Shimon Wdowniski, a Kiryat Malachi native, gets wide press after word gets out that he authored a study last year that showed the land under the tower as the only place in the area to be sinking 1 to 3 millimeters per year.
  • He tells USA Today: “I looked at it this morning and said, ‘Oh my god.’ We did detect that.”

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