The rate of the coronavirus’ spread in Israel has slowed, according to a report prepared this week by a team of 30 experts appointed by the National Security Council to analyze the outbreak, with eyes now cautiously pointed towards devising an exit strategy.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72
According to the findings in a document obtained by TheMarker, the daily number of those contracting COVID-19 in Israel dropped by 33 percent since a March 26 peak. The daily rate of infection went from 1.25 to 1.15 per patient, meaning the number of people infected doubles every five instead of every three days.
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The data could be skewed according to the number of tests conducted, but the team confirmed its interpretation using more reliable figures: The number of cases in serious condition, and the number of fatalities. “The number of [new] patients in serious condition and fatalities is [predicted to be] 100 per day,” down from 270, the report said.
The government’s emergency measures were based on a forecast of over 1,100 new confirmed cases each day. This week, the actual daily number of confirmed new patients was between 500 and 700.
Even at a low rate of infection, 1.2 people per patient, the original model predicted 22,000 coronavirus patients in critical condition and 8,600 deaths by the end of the outbreak. A high infection rate, two people per patient, would send the number of critical cases soaring to 54,000 and the number of fatalities to 21,600.
In contrast, according to the new report’s most pessimistic scenario, in the two years it would take to develop a vaccine, 100 people a day will fall ill. Even then, the number of patients would be small in comparison to the size of Israel’s population: “Less than 100,000 people infected and less than 1,000 fatalities by the end of the period.”
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A gradual return to work ‘over a long period of time’
The experts credited the government’s drastic action for the slowdown, saying that although “this slowdown could well be influenced by other factors,” it comes 10 to 12 days after major steps were taken to restrict movements, matching what has been seen in other regions in the world.
Critics disagree with that interpretation, with some saying that other countries – such as Japan, Germany and the Netherlands – experienced the same drop without adopting similar radical policies. As the disease spreads, the population develops a natural immunity, say the critics.
In the past week, more and more people have called on the government to loosen restrictions, return the economy to a level of 40 to 50 percent of usual activity, and allow the population to develop herd immunity. But the NSC’s team of experts opposes easing the lockdown, saying that move would destroy the country’s ability to contain the epidemic and be a disaster for Israeli society.
“A policy of ‘herd immunity’ requires the infection of a majority of the population, which means tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of patients in serious condition,” they warn, “even under the unreasonable assumption that it is possible to isolate the elderly population from the young. The health system cannot handle an event of this nature.”
“The slowdown that was observed, specifically the number of patients in serious condition and the number of deaths, matches the previous forecasts of the team of experts,” states the report. “It proves there is not a large number of unidentified [coronavirus] carriers among the population. It is therefore possible to state with a high degree of confidence that preserving the present policy of social isolation in the coming weeks will enable containment of the outbreak – in other words, a significant decrease in the rate of those infected with a few dozen deaths and hundreds of patients in serious condition.”
The team was expected to submit its recommendations for an exit strategy on Thursday. For now, it says "the existing isolation policy should be maintained, at least until a significant reduction in the number of new patients." To end the lockdown, the report recommends to set a target for new cases, and determine a level at which it would be possible to “gradually get the economy back to work.” The aim is then to “preserve this situation over a long period of time, until a vaccine is developed.”