Despite Vaccinations, 'Israel Not Heading for Victory Over COVID,' Experts Warn

Team of experts who advised Israel's National Security Council says control over crisis not achieved mainly due to lack of long-term policy and failure in curbing infection rates in COVID hotspots, such as Haredi communities

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
Police enforcing COVID restrictions in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2021.
Police enforcing COVID restrictions in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2021. Credit: Moti Milrod
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

A team of experts who advised the National Security Council at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis has warned that an uncontrolled exit from Israel's third national lockdown could lead to a renewed and a more severe outbreak of the pandemic.

Prof. Eli Waxman, a physicist at the Weizmann Institute, presented his findings during the cabinet meeting on Sunday in which ministers decided to extend the lockdown until Friday morning.

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Waxman, whose team advises the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, produced a report on the matter for the premier and senior health officials.

The report said that Israel is in a "new era in its fight against the coronavirus, pointing to the vaccination drive and the new strains of the virus. Appropriate management of the crisis will reduce the damage to the economy, and in the long run, after children get vaccinated, a return to normal will be possible." However, it also noted that "the country is not on its way to a victory over the virus."

Waxman says that "the successful vaccination campaign won't be enough to resolve the crisis anytime soon, and an uncontrolled exit from the lockdown would lead to a harsher outbreak of the virus. As long as no meaningful change is made, we’ll be forced to choose between a fourth lockdown, with all its financial repercussions, and many unnecessary fatalities."

Prof. Eli WaxmanCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The recommendations included setting infection rates that would trigger the lifting of restrictions, as well as ensuring proper "social distancing" among the public.

The report added that the number of vaccine doses Israel has and the doses that are expected to arrive over the next few months will not be enough to prevent the spread of the virus, leaving many elderly people vulnerable. In addition, mass infection of this population might cause thousands of fatalities and tens of thousands of seriously ill patients.

According to Waxman, this would still be the case even if 95 percent of the adult population is vaccinated and the vaccine is 95 percent efficient. Data collected during the vaccination campaign shows that the effectiveness of the vaccines is developing much slower in comparison to the data provided by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

"This means that that the risk and severity of another outbreak is greater. The only way to control the pandemic while maintaining a functioning economy and society is reducing daily new cases from thousands to hundreds. This will prevent further outbreaks by breaking infection chains and taking specific measures in places where infection rates are extremely high," the report says.

Waxman added that the vaccine will help, but it won't eliminate the need to employ such measure in the fight against the pandemic. "A plan to gradually exit the lockdown should be defined, while meeting the goals set by the Health Ministry, similar to those proposed for exiting Israel's second nationwide lockdown, but never implemented."

A mass funeral in Jerusalem in violation of COVID restrictions, January 31, 2021. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

"Full control has not been achieved throughout the crisis mainly due to a the lack of long-term policy, failure to take meaningful steps, like curbing infection rates in coronavirus hotspots (particularity in the ultra-Orthodox community) as well as unprofessional management of the crisis," the report stated.

"These failures have led to serious consequences – impacting the economy and health well beyond the present, the need to impose a second and a third lockdown and the thousands of deaths and seriously ill patients, all of which could have been prevented by better management of the crisis."

"To prevent the continuation of the severe damage to Israel's economy and public health, and to avoid another severe infection wave and a fourth lockdown, a controlled exit from the current lockdown and an essential change in managing the crisis are needed," the report concluded.

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