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Israel media review

Whatever gets your pox off: What the press is saying about COVID, shots and Iran

With virus numbers remaining at record levels, there’s plenty of doom and gloom alongside vaccine hopes

An Israeli healthcare worker prepares a dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit Health Services clinic in Jerusalem on January 14, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
An Israeli healthcare worker prepares a dose of the coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit Health Services clinic in Jerusalem on January 14, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

1. Holding steady on the cusp of disaster: The good news in Israel is that the number of new coronavirus cases no longer appears to be rising. The bad news is that the plateau is at a horrifyingly high level.

  • “It’s not going up, but not going down,” anchor Udi Segal told Channel 13 viewers Thursday night at the top of the nightly primetime news broadcast.
  • “For the fourth day running: over 9,000 cases a day,” reads the top headline on the website of the Kan news broadcaster Friday morning.
  • The Walla news site notes that the 57,790 new confirmed cases over the week mark a weekly high for the country, since the start of the outbreak. The number is 22 percent higher than the week before, according to the site, citing Health Ministry data.
  • Channel 12 says that 50 deaths over the past 24 hours mark a high as well.
  • “That being said, along with the record infection numbers, there are also signs that the rise is halting. The basic reproduction value is still above 1, but it has shown signs of lowering for about a week, according to a Military Intelligence report,” the channel reports.
  • Israel Hayom quotes from another report, this one from Hebrew University researchers, predicting that the death toll will cross 5,000 in February. With the toll currently at 3,892, and a death rate of even less than one percent — meaning that some 500 of the people who were confirmed positive this week alone will die — the only thing that seems surprising from the report is that it will take until February to hit that terrible number.
  • The paper notes that deaths are already 10% higher than “the pessimistic December prediction,” and says more trouble may be on the way.
  • “We can expect the number of seriously ill patients to rise to some 180 a day in the coming weeks, even if we start to see an effect from the lockdown and the wave of vaccinations,” it reports.

2. Tight like clown pants: Several news outlets focus on police plans to tighten the lockdown over the weekend, setting up a whopping 25 traffic checkpoints around the country, according to Walla News.

  • The site even publishes the location of the checkpoints, so drivers looking to break the lockdown will know exactly where to go to avoid the traffic and questions from cops.
  • Plus, the rainy weather appears to be scaring the fuzz away. “Any place where the rain becomes a safety risk, we’ll get rid of the checkpoint and allow movement. Preventing risk comes ahead of checking to see if people are breaking guidelines,” top traffic cop Guy Levy tells Army Radio.
  • Haaretz’s Amos Harel calls Israel’s response to the virus on everything but vaccines a “fiasco.”
  • “Since the middle of the week we’ve apparently seen a limited effect of the lockdown that was imposed three weeks ago and was tightened around a week ago. The rise in daily new infections has been curbed for now, along with the number of new patients in serious condition. The hospitals are under a heavy load; even if the number of seriously ill – about 1,000 – isn’t making them collapse, it’s very likely affecting the quality of care both in the coronavirus wards and elsewhere,” he writes.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth reports on a study that found that medical staff in coronavirus wards stand a 35% chance of developing post-trauma stress disorder.
  • “For me this is a mass casualty event,” Dr. Gilat Shenhav, head of the coronavirus ward at Herzog geriatric hospital in Jerusalem, tells the paper. “I’m finding myself in traumatic shock. I’m living a different life than ‘normal’ people.”

3. Vaccine and herd: If there’s one thing nearly every Israeli can agree on, it’s that the vaccine drive is going swimmingly overall.

  • Things are going so well that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told a group of activists that he will win the upcoming election thanks to his handling of the crisis, according to Channel 12 news, which aired leaked footage of the comments Thursday.
  • “Israel’s vaccination campaign continues to break world records,” Prof. Arnon Afek writes in Israel Hayom. “Within the first three weeks of the operation, more than 20% of the entire population received the first dose of the inoculation. The rate of vaccination among Israelis over the age of 60 is a whopping 73%.”
  • Channel 13 reports that the Health Ministry is planning on expanding the vaccination program to those 40 and over as early as next week.
  • ToI’s Nathan Jeffay writes about the importance of an Israeli study showing preliminary data from its vaccination campaign, which he calculates includes 120 times the number of elderly test subjects than the Pfizer Phase III trial and shows immunity kicking it for many two weeks after the first shot.
  • “To paraphrase Star Trek, we’re boldly going where no country has gone before,” immunologist Cyrille Cohen tells him. “Some countries are saying they will ‘wait and see’ before giving the vaccine. Israel, with its emphasis on a scientifically supported ‘choose life’ ethos, took a different approach — and we now look set to provide the real-world and vital results and observations that will hopefully give a good basis for others to stop waiting and embrace the vaccine.”
  • But in Haaretz, Ido Efrati notes that the spread of mutations, particularly the fast-spreading British variant, may outpace the distribution of the vaccines.
  • “The vaccination drive, on the one hand, and the new mutations, on the other, place Israel on the threshold of a new chapter in the fight against the pandemic. Over the next few weeks, these two competing forces – the infection rate and the vaccination rate – will determine which way Israel is headed in the struggle,” he writes.
  • The vaccinations have even raised fears of the development of an “Israeli mutation,” Army Radio reports.
  • “Biological processes are what cause mutations, and there could be changes in the virus,” Dr. Eran Kopel tells Army Radio. “That being said, it’s likely we won’t see a rise in the severity of the virus, as in how many it kills, and perhaps it will even go down.”

4. Flexing during the flux: Former Israel Hayom publisher Sheldon Adelson is no more, but his paper is continuing his legacy as the mouthpiece of the US-Israel relationship, which in recent days has been sharply focused on Iran.

  • For the last two days, the paper has been rattling sabers on its front page (alongside massive appreciations for Adelson). On Thursday, it claimed that the IDF was drawing up plans for “dealing” with the Iranian nuclear threat, which sounds like a big deal, but is actually kind of a no-duh (it would be news if Israel did not have plans).
  • And on Friday, it runs a frontpage headline claiming that the Joe Biden administration will align its stance on Iran with Israel.
  • The further you get into the actual story, the clearer it becomes that the idea is more aspirational than real. By the end it boils down to an Israeli source saying that “at this point, the American side is not talking to anyone [for internal reasons] but our estimation is that the new government will consult with us and our new allies in the region, before settling on a strategy,” and a single source “close to the transition” confirming that “consultations like that will happen,” in Israel Hayom’s words.
  • Others are also estimating that Biden won’t still Israel’s hand against Iran, at least in Syria.
  • “The Biden administration won’t stop Israel from striking [in Syria],” Amos Yadlin, a former Military Intelligence chief, tells ToI’s Judah Ari Gross.
  • Gross reports that the recent uptick in reported Israeli attacks on Iranian sites in Syria isn’t a last hurrah while the Donald Trump administration remains in office, but rather the result of an estimation that Iran is restrained by the fact that it wants to keep its options open so it can negotiate with the new Americans in power.
  • But Walla’s Amir Bohbot reports on the flip side of that equation, that the strikes are the result of Iran doing all the less-than-kosher stuff it can before it has to be on its best behavior once Biden comes into office.
  • Bohbot reports that Israeli defense figures “estimate that Tehran will continue to take advantage of the uncertainty in the region regarding Russia and the US in order to try and smuggle weapons to Syria and Lebanon.”
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