Israeli Cabinet Approves Coronavirus Czar's 'Traffic Light' Plan to Curb the Pandemic

Expert panel tells Haaretz that Gamzu’s plan classifying localities based on infection rate and applying restrictions accordingly is likely not enough

Noa Shpigel
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Orthodox Jewish yeshiva (religious school) students study separated by plastic cells set up amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on August 25, 2020.
Orthodox Jewish yeshiva (religious school) students study separated by plastic cells set up amid the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on August 25, 2020.Credit: AFP
Noa Shpigel

Israel's ministerial committee on the coronavirus crisis approved a plan developed by Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who is in charge of tackling the pandemic. 

Gamzu's outline, dubbed the “traffic light plan,” will go into effect on September 6. It imposes restrictions on cities according to risk levels based on the local infection rate: green, yellow, orange and red. Different color-coded areas would be subject to different restrictions, the most severe of which would be a local lockdown. 

Israel's national experts' panel for the coronavirus response said they supported the plan, and recommended that tight restrictions be immediately imposed on the red areas, including local lockdowns. If there is no significant decline in the spread of the virus, such restrictions could be expanded to more areas.

However, 11 of the 13 experts recommended opening high schools in cities not designated as red, and Dr. Alrai reported that they are about to begin large-scale testing for the virus for education system employees (up to 3,000 a day).

The paper summarizing the expert council's discussion maintains that the main reason for the present situation is "a profound failure of information and enforcement.” The experts predict a steady rise in the number of the seriously ill patients, the summary said.

The panel is headed by public health professor Prof. Ran Balicer and includes Dr. Sharon Alrai, acting head of health services in the Health Ministry; Prof. Arnon Afek, deputy director general at Sheba Medical Center; Prof. Gabi Barbash and Prof. Galia Rahav, head of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center.

“The messages of no-confidence from public figures increase the difficulty of consolidating a united front and effective enforcement. There is no point in directives or in tightening them when they are not implemented and when public representatives don't join a sustained effort to foster adherence to the directives, each in his community," the experts concluded.

They also wrote that Israelis must prepare themselves for the possibility of tighter restrictions or a national lockdown within several weeks, as an emergency measure that could be imposed immediately.

According to the paper, there is also an absence of high quality information, which makes it difficult to implement virus forecasts. It adds that there must be ongoing measurement and assessment of the interference caused by the increase in coronavirus cases to routine medical care, the activity of hospitals and non-urgent medical procedures.

The cabinet recommended immediate action, before the winter, to add hospital beds, establish new wards and continue to reinforce manpower in the hospitals and the community. This should happen through largescale budgeting and operation of home and community hospitalization systems, and by revising and intensifying enforcement activities.

Prof. Balicer told Haaretz that dealing with an ongoing pandemic of this type requires mutual responsibility and a full mobilization of everyone – "all the sectors, each and every group must make a sacrifice in aspects of life most important to it, to prevent large gatherings and to ensure responsible behavior. If each group tries to make an exception of its gatherings and if there is no sweeping support for the professional recommendations, the chances of success are very low.”

Balicer also noted uncooperative behavior by members of the public. "At this time there is a need for closing ranks, coordinated work and setting a personal example. A small minority of all the sectors is ignoring the directives, endangering the public and dragging all of us into steps that harm the economy, society and public health. It's not too late to change direction, but the continuing trend is very disturbing and I hope that we will recalculate our path," he said.

When asked whether the possibility of a national lockdown has increased in light of the public’s conduct in recent days, Prof. Balicer replied that "The traffic light plan in itself is not sufficient to reduce the incidence of the illness.”

He added that if there is no radical change in the overall compliance of Israelis, “there will be no way to avoid additional and significant restrictions in addition to those in the red cities – for which we have recommended immediate tight restraint. As for the other areas – we will try to postpone tight restraint as much as possible, but in light of the present trend they are likely to be required, possibly already on the holidays."

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