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Israel media review

What goes up must come down? What the press is saying about morbidity and apathy

The adage may be true in physics and closures, but infection stats are proving stubbornly resilient to the rule, while the vaccination rate is showing its own signs of drooping

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward on January 27 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward on January 27 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Back on the up and up: Four weeks into Israel’s third lockdown, not only is the infection rate not going down, there are signs it may be going up.

  • The Ynet news site reports that the R0, or reproductive value, of the coronavirus pathogen is inching up toward 1, the number at which infection numbers rise again, and has reached it already if you count only non-Haredi Jews. (Haredi Jews actually have the lowest R0, more on that below.)
  • “A Military Intelligence report notes that the level of positive tests continues to be very high — and in practice has not gone down during the whole period of the lockdown,” the news site reports. “According to the report, ‘the infection continues to be very large-scale and it’s possible it is going up again.’”
  • Eli Waxman, the head of the body advising the National Security Council on the lockdown, tells Army Radio that “the management of the crisis has not allowed us to control the morbidity. If this continues, there will be another outbreak and we’ll need to again face the hard choice between another lockdown or a high number of dead.”
  • “A fourth lockdown is a reasonable possibility,” he adds.
  • Dr. Orly Greenfeld, the medical head of the Magen Yisrael body coordinating the pandemic response, tells Kan that “there is a downward trend, but it’s still not what we would like to see. We need to get it lowered and that requires the lockdown in place now. We recommended that the lockdown go until Sunday night because every day is significant in terms of bringing down infections and bringing up the number of vaccinated.”

2. Shot-canned: Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, appearing on Radio 103, says that approval for shots for teens ages 12-16 will likely come in the spring, though vaccinating younger kids will be at least a year away, if not more.

  • That’s bad news for those hoping for herd immunity, according to Sheba Hospital’s Gili Regev, who tells Channel 13, “We can’t get to herd immunity until we can vaccinate kids. Right now I see herd immunity getting further away from us and we’ll have to live with the coronavirus for a long time.”
  • Prof. Eran Segel, another expert, tells Zman Yisrael that anti-vaxxers aren’t helping matters, especially as they tend to ignore the distancing rules and get infected at a higher rate: “The small minority of non-vaccinees has enough people to keep the infection rate at the current harsh level even after the vaccination drive of the adult population.”
  • Reports and anecdotal evidence point to a slowdown in excitement over getting the vaccine.
  • Channel 12 news says that the Clalit health provider discarded around 1,000 expired doses in recent days, after not enough people came in to receive the shots.
  • “There’s a decrease in desire to vaccinate,” the head of Clalit tells Kan. “The state needs to open vaccinations to all citizens this week or next.”
  • This writer can report getting vaccinated at a nearly empty arena in Jerusalem, where he saw only two other people getting vaccinated in about half an hour. A visitor to the same place the next day reported the same dearth of takers.

3. Let me see that throng: ToI’s Nathan Jeffay reports that in some Haredi areas with high infection rates, vaccination rates among the elderly are low, though overall Haredi vaccination rates are only just behind those in the general population.

  • “We thought it would be much, much harder to promote vaccines [to Haredim] and the rates would be much much lower,” says the Health Ministry’s Mini Hadad. “We are very happy. We see it as a very big success. The gap is not big, and it will close.”
  • As far as infections go, the ultra-Orthodox make up nearly one in four new infections, he reports, and that’s before whatever disastrous consequence from Sunday’s mass funerals in Jerusalem are seen.
  • “Although we’ve seen mass gatherings throughout the pandemic, the funeral of Rabbi Meshulam David Soloveitchik looked more dramatic than any of them,” writes Amos Harel in Haaretz. “These pictures have undermined whatever was left of the public’s faith in the government’s moves, and increased the anger at and alienation from the Haredi public. This should first and foremost concern the Haredim themselves, as the rate of infection among them is three times their proportion of the population.”
  • “Uvda” TV show writer Shai Gal writes for Channel 12 that while the first mass funeral was taking place in Jerusalem, he was one of 20 people burying his mother-in-law and telling others they could not come.
  • “I wanted to be angry, but was really just saddened. I was sad for those who wanted to attend her funeral and certainly also saw the pictures [from the Haredi funeral], and I was sad for this country, which allowed this to happen.”
  • ToI editor David Horovitz dives headfirst into the tangled noodle kugel of excuses, complaints, worries and dangers surrounding all the parties involved in creating or not stopping the mass funeral, none of which are easy to untie. But one idea is simple enough: Life.
  • “To me, the notion of crowded masses of devotees knowingly endangering their lives and the lives of others to pay personal last respects to a departed sage during a pandemic is the antithesis of life-affirming Judaism,” he writes. “I have to conclude that some of my fellow Jews think very differently about life and death and spirituality, about the core principles of our shared faith. And I don’t imagine anything anybody says or does or threatens to do right now is going to greatly change that.”

4. Freedom row: Despite high infection rates and mass funerals, or perhaps because of it, talk is starting to ramp up about lifting the lockdown.

  • “The challenge of returning to normal,” reads the top front-page headline in Israel Hayom.
  • The paper quotes coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying that “we are planning for ending the lockdown and having conversations about what will open.”
  • Kan reports, “The Health Ministry is worried about exiting the lockdown, and understands that it’s being done for lack of options. The ministry has identified exhaustion among the populace and a drop in adherence for the rules and there’s a fear the public won’t allow more lockdowns. So the ministry is demanding that the exit be slow and measured.”
  • Army Radio reports slightly stronger words from the Health Ministry, which it says has termed allowing the economy to reopen now “collective suicide.” But Haaretz reports that not everyone in the ministry is such a Debbie Downer.
  • “The problem is that the ones promoting the policy of the ministry are primarily the doomsayers, including the mathematicians and modelers who present hardline models,” a ministry source is quoted saying. “Not everyone believes them. The working assumption these models are based on is that everyone will get infected. But it’s not clear that that’s true. That keeps the ministry fixed in place and doesn’t allow it to move forward.”
  • Unsurprisingly, the direction the government takes has become uber politicized, with Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu backing more lockdown and Blue and White head Benny Gantz leading the less-lockdown camp.
  • According to Channel 12 news, a cabinet meeting early Monday devolved into a shouting match between the two over the issue.
  • One person who witnessed the fight described it to Channel 12 as “a Turkish bazaar.” Another professional who took part in the meeting said it appeared that both sides were now chiefly concerned with political considerations, as the country heads to an election on March 23.
  • “What’s missing here? Leadership,” writes Nadav Eyal in Yedioth. “Netanyahu not longer pretends he even cares about the violations by Haredi leaders. To his misfortune, Gantz is looking for votes as a party of ‘open everything’ and going after [Gideon] Sa’ar. The political arena is full of elections, lists, resignations, and by the way, extending the lockdown, opening schools, easing restrictions, matters of life and death.”
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