High-tech mogul to present pandemic exit strategy to Knesset committee

High-tech mogul to present pandemic exit strategy to Knesset committee

Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua and computer scientist Shai Shalev-Shwartz claim their solution can wrap up the current public health crisis in a matter of months

Amnon Shashua, CTO, co-founder and chairman of Mobileye. May 27, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)
Amnon Shashua, CTO, co-founder and chairman of Mobileye. May 27, 2015. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

One of the Israel’s most prominent tech entrepreneurs is slated to present the Knesset with a plan that he claims will allow the country to largely solve the current coronavirus crisis and restart its economy within months.

Amnon Shashua, the CEO of Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based, Intel-owned maker of technologies for self-driving cars, is scheduled to detail his plan to the Knesset Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus on Tuesday, laying out a series of steps that he believes will avert a possible recession caused by the closure of so many businesses.

Israel’s unemployment rate reached 23.3 percent on Sunday after it continued to climb over the weekend, up from a record low of under 4% prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

Shashua and Hebrew University computer science professor Shai Shalev-Shwartz first laid out their ideas on the online platform Medium last week in a paper entitled “Can we Contain Covid-19 without Locking-down the Economy?”

An Israeli woman wears a face mask for fear of the coronavirus while shopping in Ramle, March 19, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The basic idea, they explained, is that the population be “divided into low and high-risk groups.”

“Quarantine the high-risk and gradually release the low-risk population to achieve a managed herd immunity of that population. The managed phase is designed to allow the health system to cope with the expected number of severe cases. Given the herd immunity of the low-risk group, we can gradually release the high-risk population,” they wrote.

The pair proposed considering anyone over 67 years old as part of the high-risk group and releasing the rest of society “to their daily routine while following certain distancing protocols that are aimed at slowing the spread, while keeping the economy un-disrupted to a large degree, but ultimately reaching a herd immunity level.”

Only then will it be safe to relax restrictions on the elderly.

“The underlying premise is that a full population-wide quarantine is not a solution in itself — it is merely a step to buy time followed by a more managed (non brute-force) approach,” they continued, describing how their approach could keep the economy going while “keeping the health system in check and not overwhelming its capacity to handle severe cases.”

A woman wears a mask due to the coronavirus at the Mahane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem, March 15, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In an interview with financial website Calcalist, Shashua said that his plan could end the crisis within a short period of time.

“The population can cope with difficult situations, but you need to talk to the people as equals and give them an exit strategy. There isn’t any exit strategy right now,” he said.

“On the other hand, if you say that we are going to have three difficult months, that the country will hand out grants so that the economy doesn’t collapse, but after that it will all be over, people will be able to accept that. Right now the fear is that the decision makers don’t understand what they are doing. They know a quarantine is required, but what next? Until there is no vaccine we remain vulnerable to more breakouts.”

He added that he had already begun sending copies of his plan to colleagues abroad and hopes that it will be adopted internationally.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch. (Ben Gurion University)

Asked about Shashua’s plan, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, the director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said that it was heading in “a good direction but it’s too simplistic.”

“We need to enlarge the testing of both high-risk groups and representative sampling [of the general population] in order to see how we can apply more differentiated measures, meaning releasing some [and] easing current distancing restrictions in certain locations but on a much smaller scale, in [specific] neighborhoods, for example.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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