Wave bye-bye: 6 things to know for May 31
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Israel media review

Wave bye-bye: 6 things to know for May 31

Israelis who decided that health guidelines are for suckers may bid farewell to the return of good times as rising infections spark fears of Wave 2.0. Who’s to blame? Everybody

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on May 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv on May 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Is it a wave yet? A sharp rise in daily infections over the holiday weekend has Israelis fretting about a second wave of the virus at their doorsteps.

  • Stepping back into his role as COVID-19 oracle, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a televised press conference Saturday night to warn of “a steep increase” in new coronavirus infection in recent days, though he said it was too early to tell whether there would be an upward trend that would warrant the reimposition of closures.
  • “A second wave?” asks a headline on Channel 12 news. The channel reports that in the last several days, Netanyahu and a special “coronavirus cabinet,” have met, “and an understanding has arisen that Israel needs to get into a coronavirus routine, which is based on three main elements: enforcement, checks and [personal] initiative.”
  • The personal part will essentially be the key part here, as the government has yet to do anything but threaten to make tough decisions: “In consultations between the prime minister and some other ministers, it was decided that they will only deal with the problem where there are outbreaks, and they won’t close all schools or educational facilities. This veers from claims by the Health Ministry, which claimed there are no outbreak centers, but an even distribution across the country,” reports Channel 13 news.
  • “It’s in your hands,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom, showing side by side pictures of Tel Avivians hanging out at cafes as if nothing is amiss, and people in Jerusalem getting tested.

2. Fast times at Outbreak High: Many point to schools as the center of the outbreak, after a series of facilities, mostly high schools, needing to shut down because of sick kids or students, particularly Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia high school.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth dubs the school “Outbreak High.”
  • Channel 12 reports that the source of the outbreak was apparently a teacher who didn’t feel well but came to school anyway.
  • “It’s clear that their level of thinking was that we are past this and don’t need to keep the rules,” the parent of a student who got it, and whose wife is now also sick, tells the station. “They thought that they need to free kids and staff of the burden of wearing a mask and keeping social distancing.”
  • Walla news reports that even if schools are open, many Jerusalem high schoolers are staying home, and the head of the PTA in Jerusalem is urging parents to make their own decisions, at least until test results from the school come back.

3. Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them: The Ynet news site meanwhile claims an “outbreak” among African asylum-seekers is even worse than reported (the story says 19 have been confirmed positive, but also says 64 were earlier confirmed positive, without explaining what either number refers to), since the number of positive cases in the community is at 25 percent.

  • The news site reports that many in the community are afraid to get tested for fear of not being able to go to work: “Just this week we got back to work, after two months. We don’t have a shekel left and if we have the coronavirus nobody will come to our aid, because we don’t get unemployment like Israelis,” says one Sudanese asylum-seeker who adds that since they are all young, they are not at risk anyway.
  • But Channel 12 news reports that there is no such outbreak in the community, which is often the target of demonization.
  • “There was a problem with finding them ways to quarantine, but there’s no testing problem. There is nothing special about this population that supports infection and the numbers are so small you can’t say it’s an abnormal outbreak,” says Zoe Gutzeit of Physicians for Human Rights.

4. The shame game: There is plenty of tsk-tsking from the press at the laxity on display by most around the country, including those charged with enforcement.

  • “This disregard threatens to ruin and erase the impressive achievements Israel has made in minimizing the damage from the virus, and it could take us back not only to the severe restrictions for business but also – let’s hope not – a spike in infections and deaths,” writes Ran Reznick in Israel Hayom. “On the way back to normalcy it seems that the Health Ministry, other government ministries and the public forgot the difficult and tiring, yet necessary commitments for living with the virus, including maintaining the new rules in public spaces, such as masks, distancing and hygiene.”
  • “Irresponsibility, gatherings and parties,” reads one headline in Israel Hayom, above pictures of people at the beach.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, on the other hand, has the same message, but different illustrations: government ministers blatantly refusing to social distance or wear masks correctly.
  • In Yedioth, Sever Plotzker pens an acerbic manifesto against those who ignore the rules and then cry when they get shut down or get sick: “You, who have freed yourself of any responsibility for others, don’t come asking for responsibility toward you when the next wave hits here. Don’t ask for identification or support in the name of mutual support. Mutual isn’t a menu you get to pick and choose from … Don’t come complaining, representatives of retail outlets, that the lockdown brings you back to the brink of bankruptcy, when you opened your stores and got rid of all the guidelines. Anyone who goes in with a mask feels like a chump. In the next wave, you’ll expect these chumps to care about your worries.”

5. Ministry of maladies: In Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that a change is indeed needed, but not necessarily back toward lockdowns.

  • “It is unreasonable for an increased rate of infection to bring about renewed closure. After the huge damage done by the previous closure, this would be a blow that the Israeli economy could not stand. It could even be met with widespread resistance by the public, a possibility the government should take into consideration,” he writes.
  • “Israel still has not established an efficient epidemiological system to find and break the chain of infection. Moreover, the collection of data is faltering. The extent of testing is not great and the Health Ministry continues to place obstacles before widespread testing at hotspots … These are bureaucratic difficulties that the state should have been expected to overcome by now, considering the time that has passed.”
  • That may be a tall order. Kan reports that machines ordered from the Chinese company BGI that should have allowed Israel to up its testing to 20,000 or 30,000 tests a day have been found to be incompatible with the system used by the health funds here.
  • Prof. Eli Waxman, who is advising the National Security Council on dealing with the virus, tells Army Radio that the Health Ministry was never cut out for this work, calling a new lockdown, if it happens, “a clear failure.”
  • “They need a certain organizational change — the Health Ministry is not used to work in time frames of 24  and 48 hours. It’s not an operational body that’s used to that kind of work. If we had a body that could identify an outbreak chain and put it in quarantine within two days, that would stop a lockdown.”

6. Hands up here, hands up there: The shooting death of an East Jerusalem man with autism at the hands of the police also gets widespread press.

  • Haaretz’s lead editorial slams the authorities for not taking responsibility for what was clearly a tragic mistake: “It seems that this time there was a lethal combination of police having a quick trigger finger and the Jerusalem district police’s discriminatory policies toward Palestinian residents of the city. This violence is at the very least supported by the silence by those in charge of law enforcement and the department that investigates police.”
  • Speaking to Army Radio, though, former Jerusalem police chief Assi Aharoni says people should not be as quick to judge as the police were to shoot, especially since this occurred near the Damascus Gate, the site of several attacks in the past.
  • “There’s not a police force in the world that needs to deal with a terror arena like this. I don’t know any traffic cop in another place that is supposed to turn into an elite forces soldier in a moment,” he says.
  • “They killed him in cold blood,” his mother tells Yedioth.
  • Israel is also closely watching what some might have thought to be a similar case in the killing of George Floyd and riots it has sparked in the US.
  • Channel 12’s Yona Leibzon, clearly shocked by what she is seeing, somehow mixes up the protests, which she says are the worst seen there in years, with the anger that had been building over coronavirus lockdowns, though some would say those fall on opposite sides of a uniquely American political divide.
  • “After long weeks in quarantine with no work, with the highest infection rate, an all-time high in unemployment and fears about stability, the pressure pot that has been boiling for years broke open in one swoop. The protests were not just about Floyd, but much more.”
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