Israeli virologist urges world leaders to calm public, slams ‘unnecessary panic’
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'Calm down! We know how it behaves; we know who's in danger'

Israeli virologist urges world leaders to calm public, slams ‘unnecessary panic’

‘People think this virus is going to attack them all, and then they’re all going to die,’ says Prof. Jihad Bishara. ‘Not at all. In fact, most of those infected won’t even know it’

Workers from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing protective suits and respirators are given supplies as they line up before entering the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, to begin cleaning and disinfecting the facility, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Workers from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing protective suits and respirators are given supplies as they line up before entering the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, to begin cleaning and disinfecting the facility, March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A leading Israeli virologist on Sunday urged world leaders to calm their citizens about the coronavirus pandemic, saying people were being whipped into unnecessary panic.

Prof. Jihad Bishara, the director of the Infectious Disease Unit at Petah Tikva’s Beilinson Hospital, said that some of the steps being taken in Israel and abroad were very important, but the virus is not airborne, most people who are infected will recover without even knowing they were sick, the at-risk groups are now known, and the global panic is unnecessary and exaggerated.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years,” Bishara said in a Channel 12 interview. “I’ve been through MERS, SARS, Ebola, the first Gulf war and the second, and I don’t recall anything like this. There’s unnecessary, exaggerated panic. We have to calm people down.

“People are thinking that there’s a kind of virus, it’s in the air, it’s going to attack every one of us, and whoever is attacked is going to die,” he said.

“That’s not the way it is at all. It’s not in the air. Not everyone [who is infected] dies; most of them will get better and won’t even know they were sick, or will have a bit of mucus.”

But in Israel and around the world, “everybody is whipping everybody else up into panic — the leaders, via the media, and the wider public — who then in turn start to stress out the leaders. We’ve entered some kind of vicious cycle.”

Prof. Jihad Bishara (Courtesy)

He urged the public to internalize that “we’re talking about a virus that is not airborne. Infection is via droplet transmission… Only if you are close to someone who has the virus, and you get the saliva when he sneezes or coughs, can you get ill. And if you don’t then maintain personal hygiene,” primarily by washing hands.

He said the virus did not appear to be “too intelligent” — unlike flu, “which is very intelligent, it changes, adapts, and it infects people via their airway passages.”

Bishara said some of the harsh steps taken in Israel — which has essentially closed its borders, limited gatherings to no more than 10 people, closed all educational facilities, and shut down malls, restaurants and places of entertainment and culture — were motivated by the leaders’ acknowledged awareness that the Israeli health system will buckle under any further strain.

Home quarantine has been ordered for “everyone who has passed by someone who may have been infected by someone else,” he protested, “because they know that our health system cannot withstand coming under any more strain, because we are perennially stretched to the limit.”

Referring to Italy’s national lockdown, he said that “quarantine is an effective precaution, but there has to be temperate use. You can shut down a whole country, but there are other means.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (right) and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. Netanyahu is explaining how the coronavirus can spread from a sneeze. (Flash90)

At this stage, he said, “we know how the virus behaves, how it spreads, and which groups are in danger. We know now that his virus is primarily dangerous to old people, and to people with a history of chronic disease, and those who are immunocompromised.”

Appealing to Israeli leaders “who are appearing every night at 8 p.m. to announce all kinds of steps, some of them very important,” he said, they should “first and foremost calm people down.”

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