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Behind the HeadlinesModified version of 'Swedish model' can work in Israel

WATCH: Epidemiologist Michael Edelstein on Israel’s mishandling of virus crisis

In video interview, the former UK health policy driver explains why lockdowns aren’t ideal, and what can be done to avoid them in the future

As Israel heads into the Sukkot holiday under its second nationwide lockdown, it continues to lead the world in coronavirus cases per capita and has surpassed the United States in daily COVID-19 deaths per capita. Officials had initially expected the lockdown to last just two weeks, but are now warning the public that it will likely be extended long after the holiday season ends on October 11.

Meanwhile, one of the world’s leading epidemiologists, Bar Ilan University’s Prof. Michael Edelstein, is keeping a wary eye as developments unfold. Just two months ago Edelstein moved to Israel from his native England, where he was responsible for public health programs at Public Health England, the executive agency for the London-based Department of Health, since 2015.

Edelstein spoke to The Times of Israel’s Health and Science correspondent Nathan Jeffay on Thursday for the Behind the Headlines video series, following up on his earlier warnings that Israel may have to enter a third or even fourth lockdown if the proper precautions aren’t taken when the country lifts current restrictions.

In our Behind the Headlines series, ToI reporters and editors video interview influential individuals from a wide range of fields. All sessions are aired exclusively to the Times of Israel Community before being shared with our broader readership.

Epidemiologist Michael Edelstein (courtesy of Michael Edelstein)

While Edelstein says that Israel’s first lockdown was effective in lowering the number of coronavirus cases, he tells Jeffay that the lack of steps taken following the lockdown has led to Israel’s current second – and more widespread – wave. He praises elements of the controversial Swedish model, which avoided any lockdowns while maintaining low-level restrictions that were carefully followed by the public.

“I think lockdowns are a last-measure resort,” Edelstein says. “They are damaging to people’s mental health, they are damaging to people’s livelihoods, and if they can be avoided, then they should.”

However, he says, “there are just points where they are the only tool we have, like right now.”

I think lockdowns are a last-measure resort. They are damaging to people’s mental health, they are damaging to people’s livelihoods, and if they can be avoided, then they should

Edelstein says that there is a “sweet spot” on the spectrum between continuous full lockdowns and zero restrictions – a set of coronavirus guidelines that don’t imprison people, but also don’t let the virus run amok.

“Now, the sweet spot for Sweden may not be the same as it is for Israel… what works in Sweden is not necessarily going to work here, and you can’t just bring the Swedish model here because the population is different, and the relationship and the trust in government is also different – but nevertheless, there is that sweet spot for Israel,” Edelstein says.

“It requires people to play by the rules, but it also needs the government to step up and also regain the trust of the population. Because that is one big difference between Sweden and Israel now,” he says. “There is very little trust in the government here, as we see in the daily protests. Whereas in Sweden, and generally in northern Europe, there’s a high level of trust in government – people believe the government is there to help them.”

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