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Health Officials Are Terrifying the Israeli Public Over Coronavirus for Nothing

Nehemia Shtrasler
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A man walks pensively wearing a mask, Jerusalem, June 7, 2020.
A man walks pensively wearing a mask, Jerusalem, June 7, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Nehemia Shtrasler

Yoske the taxi driver began talking a blue streak the minute I got in the cab. “My wife just called and yelled at me to drop everything and come home right away. She heard on the radio there’s a second wave. So should I go?” Before I could reply, he went on: “I can’t go back home. I owe money on the taxi, I haven’t worked for three months. I have to work,” and broke out in tears.

That’s what happens when senior Health Ministry officials stir up a public panic without rhyme or reason: Grown men weep.

I could hardly pull myself together when the image popped into my mind of the producer Jackie Bachar, who collapsed last week in Jerusalem during a protest by cultural figures because their world is still on lockdown. He lay by the side of the road and cried out: “I’m shaking all over, I’m connected to an IV and I tell you that in another month I won’t exist, not me, not my business and not my employees.” Shocking.

A friend told me about his mother, who – after she heard Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov at a press conference during the Shavuot holiday saying there was a new outbreak and once again, people shouldn’t meet with their children and grandchildren – said: “I’m not willing to live like this. I’m not willing to go into isolation, I want to die.” She died a week later. “They didn’t let me be with her, not even in her last moments. She died of a broken heart, not from the coronavirus,” my friend said.

The terror instilled by the three senior Health Ministry officials is working. Everyone’s talking about a second wave, but what’s really happening is a rise in the number of coronavirus carriers, that’s all. That’s happening because the ministry is conducting many more tests and also because the school system has reopened, with 2 million schoolchildren and 200,000 teachers.

Bar Siman Tov, Health Ministry deputy director general Prof. Itamar Grotto and Prof. Siegal Sidetsky, the ministry’s head of public health, are likewise not disclosing that the percentage of carriers in the latest tests remains the same low 1.6 percent of all those tested, compared to 5.6 percent in Europe! Nor are they telling us that there are only 120 people hospitalized with COVID-19, or that only 24 COVID-19 patients are on ventilators, and there are 3,000 ventilators. Because they want to scare us.

Nor do they say that most new patients are young people who are asymptomatic. They have a respiratory virus and that’s it. They aren’t sick and there’s no second wave. There’s a coronavirus routine that you have to live with, and meanwhile go to work.

The three senior Health Ministry officials are sowing terror every day, to defend their failed policies of the last four months. And Grotto’s not alone. Sidetsky’s right alongside him and she should go home too. She’s just as responsible as he is for irresponsibly spreading terror and for a series of major mistakes: They opposed testing, including in assisted living facilities and airports; they opposed masks and were against opening up the economy. Just this week Sidetsky scared us again: “We are experiencing the beginning of a second wave.” Utter foolishness.

From left: Officials Itamar Grotto, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Sigal Sidetsky give a briefing in Tel Aviv, May 29, 2020.
From left: Officials Itamar Grotto, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Sigal Sidetsky give a briefing in Tel Aviv, May 29, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The sad truth is that the three of them were against testing because they knew that their ability to carry them out was nil. And so they chose a policy of a prolonged and complete shutdown. Shutting down is easy. They don’t enforce it, the police do. And if meanwhile a million people are out of work, businesses are being ruined and people are about to go hungry – that’s not their problem either.

Today too, testing is complete chaos. Ten percent of the tests go missing and 40 percent of those tested wait a week or more for the results. They don’t even hesitate to claim that 30 percent of those tested are “plus positive.” According to Hadassah University Hospital director general Zeev Rotstein, this is “a tempest in a teapot. A lie.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has already shown them the door, but they pretend they don’t understand. Bar Siman Tov went home finally. It’s Grotto’s and Sidetsky’s turn now. We deserve new and better leadership in the Health Ministry.

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