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Lockdown could be ‘useless’ unless managed well, gov’t coronavirus adviser warns

As Israel reportedly hurtles towards a new lockdown, top doctor warns that unless there’s a clear exit strategy — unlike the last time around — benefits could be wasted

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Tel Aviv's beachfront is wrapped in police tape to prevent public access during a lockdown following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Tel Aviv's beachfront is wrapped in police tape to prevent public access during a lockdown following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

A new national lockdown could prove “useless” if Israel doesn’t correct its mistakes from the last time around and develop a clear exit strategy, an adviser to the government’s coronavirus czar has said.

As Israel is widely reported to be hurtling toward a second lockdown, Prof. Arnon Afek delivered a blistering critique of the exit strategy from the previous national closure.

“If it existed, it failed,” he said.

Afek, deputy director of Sheba Medical Center and a member of the advisory committee of coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, said that the Jewish High Holidays, which start September 18, provide an opportunity for a partial lockdown with minimal inconvenience to the public. He added: “I believe that we will need it.”

But Afek warned: “If you don’t plan the exit from restriction measures, from the lockdown, then it’s useless, because you will find yourself with another rise [in infections] and then you will have to do another lockdown, and it will not end; and you will end up with a very poor country, which you do not want.”

Illustrative: Magen David Adom workers escorting a patient to the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Afek said that this time around there would need to be a “much more careful exit from the lockdown without immediately opening everything and telling the people, ‘feel free.’”

Asked how far Israel should be aiming to reduce its rate of newly infected people per day, which currently stands at more than 3,000, he said “a few hundred would be quite easy to take care of,” adding that up to 1,000 would be manageable — though he stressed that he was only offering an estimate.

Prof. Arnon Afek, deputy director of Sheba Medical Center (Shai Pereg).

Afek, who was briefing journalists, voiced mixed feelings about a second lockdown. He called lockdowns a “very powerful tool” that could “cut down the infection [rate] and enable the hospital system to do better, improve itself, and prepare itself for the winter.”

Afek said that he expects that if a new lockdown is confirmed, it will to be less severe than the last one.

Afek expects communal prayer to take place over the holidays, but said he hopes that it will be outdoors or in organized capsules to minimize infection risks, and said he expects that one of the country’s favorite holiday traditions won’t be prevented.

“I don’t think that they will prohibit people riding their bicycles on Yom Kippur,” he said.

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