At the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, Israel was quick to see the handwriting on the wall and acted accordingly. From the beginning of March, the government imposed strong restrictions on the general public including social distancing, lockdowns and holiday curfews, which undoubtedly resulted in saving a multitude of lives. In the process, more than 25% of our entire work force has been laid off. Small businesses that were not deemed to provide “essential” services were required to be closed. The government’s concern was, rightly, to restrict the spread of the coronavirus and protect, to the extent possible, the general population from becoming infected.
There is no doubt that if the government had delayed in its response, the number of people who would be affected by the pandemic would have been vastly greater, creating an overload to, and breakdown of, the health system. In this regard, Israel is to be commended for taking bold action, even if many here disagreed with its measures. If other countries had acted in the same way, the number of victims of the coronavirus could have been reduced substantially, some even estimating by as much as 90 percent.
Although the number of those in Israel who contract the virus, as well as the deaths that result from it, continue to grow, the exponential growth that was expected is no longer being reported. The “curve” still exists and it is far from being flat. Containment will continue to take a long time and there is no guarantee that the outbreak will not re-occur. Nor is there any guarantee that people who were once affected by it and survived would not become re-infected. We are still in the throes of the pandemic of our times, which has generated problems of different kinds and issues that will need to be dealt with long after the “coronavirus crisis of 2020” becomes an historical, socio-economic study. Science Magazine of 14 April, 2020, reports: “[A] key metric for the success of social distancing is whether critical care capacities are exceeded. To avoid this, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022.” This is not exactly the best-case scenario to warm the cockles of our hearts.
As much as Israel is to be praised for its prompt action at the beginning of this health crisis, it now faces another crisis, an economic one. Its response to the economic fallout from prolonged social distancing, closures and lockdowns did not run on a parallel course with its response to the health crisis. Government assistance programs are admirable, but they fall short in helping hard-hit businesses, particularly small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Moreover, the aid packages extended by the government are not geared for the long haul and, admittedly, they shouldn’t be. So, different government ministries met to try to come up with an “exit plan”, that would get the economy back on track.
What is missing at the moment is a clear, agreed-upon plan to end social distancing and re-open the Israeli economy, a plan that includes, at the very least, a verifiable, sustained reduction in the number of new cases of people infected with Covid-19. Even though this is missing right now, its absence is not stopping the country from trying to inject new life into the economy by getting people back to work, or at least some of the work force, subject to guidelines of the Health Department.
Tomorrow night, at the end of Shabbat, Prime Minister Netanyahu is supposed to reveal the government’s plans to gradually end the lockdown and get the life of the country to return to “normal”, whatever that may be. But, an honest appraisal of the situation is that what was “normal” before the coronavirus pandemic will no longer be the “norm”.
Everyone wants the health crisis and the economic crisis to end. But, in looking for a way to end the economic crisis, will we act in a way that will aggravate the health crisis? This is an open question and one that will be answered only after people begin to go back to work, assuming of course, that they still have a job to return to. The proposed outline leaves a percentage of the population still at home, due to their age and health history. Everyone 65 and over needs to remain in lockdown. For small business owners, this would be devastating.
Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen is on the 21st of April. Holocaust Remembrance Day is one week after that, followed immediately by Israel’s 72nd Independence Day celebration. Could these be factors that entered into the decision whether to begin to restore the economy this coming Sunday, notwithstanding that the coronavirus continues its sweep across the country like the wave of a tsunami? There is no question that not being able to participate in these national events would have a long-term psychological impact upon our citizens. A celebration of the day of our national independence might be just the thing that the doctor ordered, as we look forward to being freed from the consequences of the pandemic. But, public celebrations would allow for multitudes to assemble together – the exact opposite of what we tried to avoid during the past month and a half. The government will be taking a calculated risk in allowing people to return to work and participate in public celebrations. Still, we need the release from the pressure of the prolonged lockdown. The question is whether the release would generate an explosion of contagion that will be difficult to contain? Let us pray that it won’t.
May we keep one hand on the work that is before us and the other hand on the sword to keep danger away, so that we can build a wall of safety around us and an economy that would be even stronger than what we had before.
A final note: Today was a beautiful day in Israel, at least it was all morning. It is Spring time now – a time when the desert blooms and the flamingo comes for a visit. So, I’m attaching a link to some of the beautiful moments in Israel at this time. The link is to a site in Hebrew, but the pictures speak in a language that everyone can understand. It opens with a 18 second introductory commercial. After that, click on the box and there will be a 2 minute, 19 second video segment. When that finishes, scroll down on the website to see the photos. The photo array starts with blue flowers on Mount Hermon. The coral reefs and turtle (last photos) are from the Red Sea in Eilat, where our oldest son is doing his research for his doctorate in marine biology. There is incredible beauty and amazement in God’s creation. We just to take time to look at it, in order to appreciate it. If you want to know any of the areas depicted in the photos, ask me. I’m sorry that I couldn’t get rid of the additional articles and advertisements that follow the photo array.
The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. (Isaiah 35:1-2)
Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. (Isaiah 35:6)
Shabbat Shalom. Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.