Israel’s coronavirus lockdown could start being eased on April 19, immediately after the Passover holiday ends, under a proposal submitted to the National Security Council on Wednesday by the Intelligence Affairs Ministry.
The document, which was obtained by Haaretz, sets out several ways in which Israel could gradually relax the restrictions, based on estimated behavior of the epidemic that would see the infection rate decline and the country returning to normal by summer, before a second wave of the outbreak in the fall.
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The first method advocates for a simple rollback of the lockdown, with the most recent measures eased first, and further restrictions being lifted every two weeks.
The second, developed by researchers from Bar-Ilan University, would divide Israel’s population into two “shifts.” Each would be released from lockdown on alternate weeks, thereby reducing the risk for asymptomatic carriers to infect others. “A person infected during his active week would enter a weeklong lockdown, at the end of which he would either be ‘discovered’ or resume activity again, apparently healthy,” the paper explains.
All family members would have to be in the same shift, and anyone showing symptoms would still be quarantined. This system could tolerate a 10 to 20 percent level of disobedience from the public, the researchers said.
A third model, proposed by Prof. Uri Alon of the Weizmann Institute of Science, would have the entire economy cycle in and out of lockdown, with four days of work for every 10 days of lockdown. It would require almost complete obedience by the public, and “the total time for dealing with the pandemic would be extended significantly,” the document said. The cyclical nature of that method would “reduce the time in which a carrier could infect others to just two-sevenths” of any given period, thereby sharply decreasing the rate of infection and eventually leading “to the virus disappearing.”
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A fourth proposal would gradually release people from lockdown based on criteria such as age, risk of complications and how likely they are to spread the virus. For instance, schoolchildren seem to contract the virus less frequently, whereas young men and women “infect others the most, but mainly people of their own age.”
The population would be sorted into three groups according to these criteria. The high-risk group would remain in full lockdown, while restrictions on the other two would be relaxed at a pace dependent on their risk of infection.
A fifth proposal would divide the country into geographic regions depending on population density, age distribution, family structure, transportation links, number of people quarantined, number of confirmed patients, opportunities for exposure to the virus and so forth. Restrictions would be relaxed based on each region’s level of risk.
The document suggested that the National Security Council examine ways of combining all these proposals, and also consider altering them based on accumulated data.
Opportunity in adversity
In a document accompanying this list of proposals, the ministry wrote that it foresaw a three-stage process through the end of 2020.
“The first is expected in the coming weeks, with a decline in the volume of infections to a point where the number of recovering patients exceeds the number of people infected,” it said. “The second stage, expected in the summer months, is a significant decline in the incidence of illness to a low level and the economy’s return to full operation, while the third stage is the ‘second wave’ of the outbreak (expected to start in September).”
This timetable is based on the expectation that developing an approved vaccine will take at least a year, it added.
“Israel has the potential to be among the first in the West to return its economy to full operation,” the document continued. “A rapid return entails risks, but it could also enable economic and diplomatic advantages to be gained over other countries.”
With regard to reopening the borders once the economy resumes full operation, the ministry suggested that anyone seeking to enter fill out a medical questionnaire, while high-risk groups would undergo a medical check at the airport or border crossing. If there’s reason to fear a second outbreak, medical checks of incoming travelers would be tightened.
The document also suggested defining a list of people with essential jobs, such as medical staffers, who would have to be kept away from their families should there be a second outbreak of the virus to ensure that the economy can continue functioning, assuming the whole country isn’t practicing aggressive social distancing at that time.
Maintaining public support for coronavirus restrictions will require “transparency, credibility and quick reporting to the public about the incidence of illness, the state of the economy and policy measures,” the document warned. It’s important to “set clear, transparent parameters for resuming economic activity,” create “a public and legal framework backed by consensus insofar as possible” and “encourage public debate over the considerations for making decisions that aren’t immediate measures.”
Once the country returns to normal, it will be necessary to frequently disinfect public transportation, elevators and public places and make hand sanitizer “widely available for free,” the document continued. The government will also have to arrange places where people who can’t be quarantined at home can stay, “develop models for creating an environment for remote work in every home” and improve the system of distance learning.
It also proposed helping companies to develop infrastructure for home deliveries and said the government should even consider “nationalizing companies of national importance” if, for instance, they have gone bankrupt.