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Minister slams claim COVID death rate is ‘failure’ compared to others in region

Edelstein rejects criticism, says Israel should be compared to Western nations in its handling of the pandemic, many of which have fared far worse

A worker from 'Hevra Kadisha,' Israel's official Jewish burial society, prepares bodies at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in Holon, near Tel Aviv, October 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A worker from 'Hevra Kadisha,' Israel's official Jewish burial society, prepares bodies at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in Holon, near Tel Aviv, October 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein angrily denied a TV report on Saturday that suggested Israel was faring poorly in terms of its death toll from COVID-19.

Channel 13 news first cited figures from the Oxford-based Our World in Data that showed that Israel is well ahead of the rest of the world in its per capita vaccination rate.

But the network then cited data from Worldometers showing Israel is 56th globally in terms of deaths per million people. It noted Israel’s death rate — 464 people per million — is higher than in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and Egypt.

This figure, it said, represents Israel’s unacknowledged coronavirus “failure.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during his visit at the Assuta hospital in Ashdod on August 20, 2020. (Flash90)

“We’ve handed the pandemic efficiently,” Edelstein said in an interview with the network, dismissing the criticism.

He fumed at the comparison with Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East, saying Israel’s handling of the coronavirus should be assessed relative to Western countries like Britain, Belgium, Italy and the United States.

Worldometer data shows Belgium, the UK, Italy, the US, Spain, France, Sweden, Austria, Germany and Canada among the 55 countries worldwide with higher per capita death tolls.

“How dare you cite a ‘failure’ to handle the coronavirus,” he said, charging that only in Israel is such criticism made of the government. In other countries, he said, television stations lead their news broadcasts praising Israel’s approach to the pandemic.

As of Saturday evening, there were 4,341 reported deaths in Israel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although widely praised for its rollout of the vaccine, the government has faced criticism for its handling of other areas of the pandemic, notably its fast exit from previous lockdowns and a failure to enforce regulations in some sectors of the population, notably the ultra-Orthodox community.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students look at Israeli police as they arrived to shutter the Jewish seminary that had opened in violation of coronavirus lockdown rules in Ashdod, Israel, Jan. 22, 2021 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Critics have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of avoiding cracking down on the Haredi public in order not to anger his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

Haredi communities have suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus, with infection rates in many ultra-Orthodox areas several times that of non-Haredi areas. High infection rates among Haredim are partly due to large family size and environmental factors, but experts also blame rule-breaking in large pockets of the community, often supported by rabbis and other community leaders.

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