Israel media review

Even pandemics deserve a second chance, apparently: 5 things to know for June 26

With infection numbers rocketing, Israel’s leadership seems ready to shift from just blaming the public to thinking about maybe locking some stuff down if it gets a lot worse

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

Police officers enforcing social distancing rules patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on June 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers enforcing social distancing rules patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on June 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

1. Surfing the second wave: Are Israelis finally coming to grips with the fact that there is a second wave of the coronavirus? All it took was numbers to reach levels seen at the height of the pandemic in March and April, but it seems the country’s leadership may be finally coming to grips with coronavirus 2.0.

  • “The second wave is here,” reads the top headline on Yedioth Ahronoth, which is kind of like declaring the beginning of World War II halfway through 1944.
  • “Israel ‘on the verge of losing control’ of 2nd COVID-19 wave,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom’s English-language news site, displaying some late recognition of what has seemed pretty clear for a while now, but which officials have been reluctant to admit because it could mean more damage to the economy.
  • Even though cases are going up, the number of people on ventilators, seen as an important lagging indicator, has remained steady.
  • Prof. Eli Waxman, who advised the National Security Council on its coronavirus response, tells Haaretz this is due to a shift away from ventilating patients until a later stage, to avoid long-term damage.
  • “In another three weeks, we are liable to reach a thousand new infections a day. And even if a small percentage of them turn serious, an overload will gradually be inflicted on the hospitals,” he says.

2. So who is to blame? Waxman tells the broadsheet that the spike in new cases isn’t due to the public not heeding guidelines, but the government rushing its reopening of the economy and the schools.

  • “I do not blame the Israeli public. There was a deep failure of management. The Health Ministry must operate according to defined goals in the struggle against the virus, and examine itself in terms of meeting quantitative goals. The fact that you tried, worked hard and didn’t sleep nights is not enough,” he says.
  • But speaking to Army Radio, an official in Ashdod City Hall responsible for dealing with the coronavirus says the public is at fault: “In the first wave, the public really heeded the guidelines, but now, like around the country, there’s been a significant slackening and there is a price to that.”
  • In Yedioth, columnist Several Plotzker says that those officials blaming the public have it backward, and it is the government that is dropping the ball.
  • “The dissonance between the rising fears and the reports coming out of the Health Ministry, and the government’s forgiving and apathetic treatment has created deep distrust among citizens and is expressed in behavior that government spokespeople define as ‘a lack of obedience by the public to the rules.’”
  • In Israel Hayom, Dr. Hagai Levine, head of the Israeli Association of Public Health, bemoans the fact that the government seems to not trust epidemiologists and has refused to share data with them.
  • “Epidemiological tracing is not just about the patient. It also means verifying their diagnosis is correct, guiding them on the way forward, finding anyone who might have been in contact with them, and coordinating the various measures that the economy must take to deal with it,” he writes.

3. Shut it down: Now that the decision-makers are willing to admit that the second wave is a bit more than a flesh wound, it’s time to get ready for the harsh new restrictions to follow, like … closing schools in some places, including Ashdod and Bat Yam, and restricting large gatherings in those places.

  • Kan reports that the Health Ministry and Military Intelligence, which has been helping to gather and analyze pandemic data, both support reimposing actual restrictions.
  • Israel Hayom says that a significant return to restrictions “is expected,” with ministers set to meet to discuss them, though only on Sunday. (The meeting was made earlier, but not that earlier. Apparently the government is so religious that it believes even saving lives cannot be done on Shabbat or the day before Shabbat. That or Israel’s 36 trillion ministers just don’t want to have to work over the weekend.)
  • It’s not clear they would be saving lives anyway. According to Yedioth Ahronoth, government officials are mostly concentrating on doing everything they can to avoid blanket measures, and are seeking to mostly crack down on the large weddings they themselves approved.
  • But an official tells the paper that with daily infections likely to hit 1,000 soon, there seems to be no choice but going back to the bad old days.
  • “Anyone who thinks we can avoid it is mistaken. There’s no doubt it is coming. So for now we are still trying to deal with it in an acute and minimal way in places with outbreaks, but it’s very possible that soon it will not be enough.”

4. Mask or he gets it: For now, the focus on nationwide action appears to be on making sure people wear masks and the possible introduction of contact tracing via phone tracking.

  • Channel 12 news reports that police have stepped up enforcement of mask-wearing, making like the untouchables raiding speakeasies, only instead of knocking over bathtub gin, just knocking people who have their mouths uncovered for hefty fines, and shutting some businesses.
  • “The operation focused on event halls, restaurants, cafes and entertainment areas,” the channel reports, noting that in Rishon Lezion alone, seven businesses were shut down and a celebratory event was broken up, with the organizers summoned to a police hearing.
  • In ToI, Nathan Jeffay writes that the Shin Bet’s phone tracking is being seen as just a stopgap until a civilian tracer app is developed, and the government may make downloading the app pretty much mandatory by punishing those who don’t have it.
  • “One of the ideas submitted to the Health Ministry involves an app design that would sanction citizens unless they sign up for its ‘voluntary’ surveillance, banning them from some public spaces and transportation,” he writes.

5. Mask please, table 7: Israel’s virus response seemed to get mixed in with its annexation mess Thursday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a partnership with the United Arab Emirates on fighting the virus.

  • Instead, what came hours later was an announcement of a partnership between private firms in Israel and the UAE. No state cooperation was mentioned, though the announcement did come from UAE government officials.
  • The New York Times reports that it appears Netanyahu jumped the gun on the announcement and pushed the Emiratis when they were already uncomfortable over annexation plans.
  • “If stronger state-to-state contacts were in the works, it was clear that the Emirates did not want to make them public,” it writes.
  • Israel’s press clearly has no so compunctions, though. Channel 12 news reports that Mossad chief Yossi Cohen helped broker the new agreement, showing that there is definitely some statecraft behind the supposedly private deals.
  • And Ynet reports that the 100,000 test kits Israel got early on in the pandemic came from the UAE, a claim that has been reported before.
  • Analyst Shimrit Meir tweets that she sees the deal, and the way it was announced, as a sign of growing closeness between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi despite everything.
  • “I really don’t understand the framing and disappointment from the story about cooperating on coronavirus with the Emirates,” she writes. “So there was supposed to be an announcement by their health minister, and in the end they made do with one from their official news agency. Who cares.”

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