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Israel media review

Hell is on the way: What the press is saying about rising morbidity and mercury

COVID-19 rates are hitting the ceiling again, but politicians are insistent that everything will be okay, even if health experts are not; will it be ditto for the climate crisis?

A line of cars waiting to enter a drive-thru coronavirus testing center in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
A line of cars waiting to enter a drive-thru coronavirus testing center in Rehovot on August 8, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

1. COVID on wry, holds the locks: Coronavirus cases are still on the rise, and while the government insists that a lockdown is not in the offing and everything is being done to avoid that move, the idea is still hanging in the air and giving off a mighty stench.

  • The breaking of the 5,000 mark for new cases in a single day — a mostly meaningless but psychologically freighted milestone — has news sites running headlines early Tuesday about “a new record,” at least for this wave of the virus.
  • At the same time, politicians are insistent that a lockdown is not going to happen on their watch.
  • “A lockdown carries the most severe repercussions,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tells Channel 13 news. “We’ve been in three and we saw the effect it had on society, the economy and health.”
  • Health Ministry chief Nachman Ash tells Kan that while people are hankering for answers on what number of patients will trigger a lockdown, he cannot provide it. “We need to weigh several factors,” he says. “We’re doing everything to avoid a lockdown.”
  • A day after saying Israelis should learn to live with the virus like they do with the flu, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman tells Army Radio that “it’s better to invest money in stopping a lockdown rather than getting to one, which will cause damage to businesses and the whole economy. We can’t do a lockdown every time. People are already learning from experience, there’s less panic and more understanding about heeding basic rules.”
  • As for those who will get sick, at least they’ll have nice digs from which to waste away on their ventilators: “We’ve set up NIS 800 million to bolster the health system. It’s important to up hospitals’ absorption capabilities, so they can take in thousands of patients.”
  • Kan reports that some seriously ill won’t even have to go to the hospital, but will be able to suffer from the comfort of their own homes, as a cost-cutting measure. The station reports that the health maintenance organizations are preparing 1,000 beds for “home hospitalization” which will cost only NIS 55 million, versus an extravagant NIS 70 million to actually hospitalize those who are very ill.
  • Channel 12 news reports that rather than a lockdown, officials are mulling more restrictions on gatherings. Shockingly, some professionals who are not beholden to the whims of the electorate think that avoiding a lockdown and pumping money into beds and Green Pass enforcement instead might not be the best idea.
  • “Aside from the masks, there’s nothing right now that will bring down morbidity,” Walla quotes public health honcho Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis saying. “The Green Pass won’t do it.”
  • Dr. Avishai Ellis, the head of an organization of internal hospital ward heads, tells Army Radio that “the health minister is way cut off from what’s happening, he’s not meeting with internal ward medical staff. He’s not visiting wards and not answering any letters we send him. There’s a problem here with his priorities and his understanding of what’s happening on the ground, not seeing the real battlefield.”
  • Israel Hayom, which has made a cottage industry of criticizing the government on its coronavirus policy, runs a top headline calling the new restrictions “too little and too late.”

2. Extra homework: Israel Hayom also peers into the future to report on the plan for opening schools, which is slated to be heavily based on testing kids for antibodies and testing them all the time to make sure they are not carrying the virus, under the headline “Failure blackboard.”

  • “The Education Ministry indeed published a plan for testing in schools, but a close look finds that it will be very difficult to implement it on the ground,” the paper predicts.
  • Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the former Health Ministry chief who is now safely out of the public eye, is similarly pessimistic about the opening of the school year, telling Haaretz that school will shut down within a few weeks, unless there is a miracle. “We expect things to be fine, but at the moment we are not really prepared. It is likely that the virus will continue to spread. Instead of seeing how to prevent contact between the sick and the healthy, people say: ‘Let’s shorten quarantine times.’ But this will lead to the opposite phenomenon, more students in isolation, because we are negotiating with a virus that is not considerate, nor can it be deterred.”
  • Channel 12, however, reports on a serological survey of 1,000 kids ages 3 to 12 that finds one in five has antibodies from the virus despite not having ever been confirmed as infected. According to the channel the results are great news for parents hoping to ship their rugrats off to school since it means that they are eligible for the Green Pass and can avoid having to isolate if exposed to the virus.
  • “The results show that there is indeed great importance in the campaign of serological checks for kids to allow the school system to open as needed.”
  • Ynet, reporting on the same survey, writes that the ultra-Orthodox town of Elad, where school has started, found a whopping 24 percent of those tested had antibodies. But the outlet also says that not many people showed up to get testing, both because of delayed planning on where to do the testing, and because of a mistaken fear that the tests would show who currently has the virus and turn the high infection city even redder on Israel’s traffic light system.

3. Getting hot in here: If the coronavirus doesn’t get us, the planet will, at least according to a UN report on the dire coming consequences of climate change, which Israel’s media pays much attention to.

  • The consensus among pundits appears to be that Israel needs to act and act fast.
  • “Israel needs courageous and binding national policies through inter-ministerial cooperation and by bolstering necessary resources. Declaring a climate emergency, as many other countries have done, could be a positive first step,” writes expert Shira Lev Ami for Channel 12’s website.
  • “By 2040, temperatures will rise by a degree and a half,” Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor, the Environmental Protection Ministries top scientist, tells Army Radio. “When that happens, the pace of the severe (weather) will become much quicker. We need to invest a lot of money and act quickly.”
  • Haaretz’s Zafrir Rinat notes that the report singled out the Mediterranean as an area prone to droughts, floods and heat waves, and encourages Israel to take some Malthusian-inspired steps.
  • “Addressing these consequences will require more than planting trees and preparing for floods. It requires a policy to slow population growth by educating and employing women and eliminating economic incentives for large families. A plan to reduce land use is also urgently needed,” he writes. “And of course, there’s a burning, existential need to achieve regional stability through peace agreements. Only regional cooperation will enable us to share water resources, produce enough food for everyone and utilize the large expanses of land in neighboring countries to produce solar energy that we and our neighbors can use.”
  • ToI’s Raoul Wootliff writes that the Foreign Ministry has the same thing in mind: “The ministry said it would advance ‘climate diplomacy,’ which includes attending international events on climate issues and promoting Israeli technologies that offer solutions,” he reports.
  • But Kan’s Moav Vardi and Yifat Glick counter that “despite attempts by government officials to portray Israel as the climate crisis ender, the reality is far from that.”
  • “When the rest of the developed world presented goals for reducing emissions by the end of 2020, two countries did not do it in time — Israel and Turkey,” they write. “And when Israel did present its goals, they only came to about half of what EU countries are doing — 27% reduction as opposed to 55% by 2030.”

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