Planned weekend lockdown could cause more infections, leading doctor says
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Planned weekend lockdown could cause more infections, leading doctor says

As government prepares to consider closures on Friday-Saturday, Dr. Hagai Levine tells The Times of Israel cabinet is ‘not planning, just improvising,’ and may make things worse

Magen David Adom medical workers test Israelis for the coronavirus at a drive-through site in Lod, on July 10, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Magen David Adom medical workers test Israelis for the coronavirus at a drive-through site in Lod, on July 10, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

As Israelis brace themselves for possible weekend lockdowns, doctors’ union chief Dr. Hagai Levine said Thursday he thinks these will do more harm than good, potentially worsening the pandemic.

Levine, an epidemiologist who is the head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, told The Times of Israel that locking down populations for weekends “doesn’t make any logical sense,” and asserted that it appeals to the government because it gives the government an opportunity to boost its image and “look like they’re doing something.”

Levine said that the plan isn’t just illogical, but also counter-productive: “It could even cause damage and [lead to] more infections,” he claimed.

Cabinet ministers were expected to meet Thursday evening to vote on weekend lockdowns. During an earlier emergency meeting, ministers agreed to mostly confine people to their homes during weekends, and take a several other measures in an effort to halt rising coronavirus infections, according to Hebrew media reports.

Illustrative: A woman in lockdown (iStock)

Levine explained that if the government enacts a law confining people to their homes and closing public spaces at weekends, in reality, people will likely gather privately in homes with friends and neighbors instead of spending their time outdoors, where infection rates are much lower than inside.

The government could thus be on track for an own-goal, he said.

Dr. Hagai Levine of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Zman Israel)

“We have evidence that the risk of getting infected is 20 to 30 times higher in closed spaces than in open spaces, and therefore there is no logic in preventing people from going outside,” Levine argued.

In his view, a weekend lockdown is an unnecessary hardship on a population that benefits from spending time outdoors. “People need to go out to open public places to breathe some fresh air, so why prevent them from doing this?”

He said that the government is “not planning, just improvising,” and does so at its peril, as he thinks that an ill-fated policy could hurt public trust and lower adherence to future coronavirus directives.

Other measures reportedly up for a vote on Thursday included shutting down the education system from Sunday, which would close kindergartens, summer camps and summer schools; limiting outdoor gatherings to 20 people and indoor ones to 10; allowing restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery; and closing gyms and pools.

Public transportation will be reduced to 50% capacity, according to a report from the Ynet website.

In a statement, Netanyahu said the measures under discussion, on which he did not elaborate, were intended to “prevent the need for a general lockdown” in light of “the huge jump in morbidity to around 1,800 cases [a day] and the doubling of the number of severe cases every seven days.”

Israel was initially seen as a success story after clamping down on the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in March and April, but saw the pandemic surge to unprecedented levels after reopening schools and rescinding almost all restrictions.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus running riot.

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