Opinion |

New Coronavirus Mutation, Same Old Israeli Mistakes

נרי ירקוני
Neri Yarkoni
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Ben-Gurion International Airport, December 12, 2020
Ben-Gurion International Airport, December 12, 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
נרי ירקוני
Neri Yarkoni

It would be interesting to examine how everything changed in the coronavirus cabinet within 24 hours. How instead of closing the skies immediately until we know more about the mutation, once again we were about to witness the “orderly import” of the coronavirus.

Just when we already had a real chance of overcoming the pandemic, when there are enough vaccinations in Israel to eliminate the existing virus, and we had the final opportunity to isolate Israel from the new mutation now and immediately – decisions were made that may cause us to miss the chance.

Bibi gets immunity – just not the kind he really wants. LISTEN to Haaretz Weekly podcastCredit: Haaretz

Let’s go back two days. The coronavirus committee was “informed” only then (December 12) about a new mutation in Great Britain. The live reports from the cabinet meeting indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said angrily: “I didn’t know about the mutation.” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein replied: “It was a secret.”

Very strange, not to say very disturbing. Already seven days ago (on December 14), the British health minister reported that a mutation of the virus was spreading in southern England, with 1,000 new patients. He added that the new strain of the virus spreads more quickly than the original, and it’s not clear whether it is resistant to the Pfizer vaccine. Plain and simple.

The next day the news was reported, including on these pages, under the heading “We closed/opened/lied” (Hebrew Haaretz, December 16). It’s hard to believe that Israel’s health minister and the prime minister didn’t see, didn’t hear and didn’t know about it.

Whatever the case, the words of those two in the coronavirus cabinet, the “professional body for dealing with the pandemic,” attest to one of two things: total ignorance, or a blatant lie. Let them choose, there’s no third option. And even worse, the head of the National Security Council, who received the status of “coordinator” – which is reserved, as we know, for someone who has no responsibility and/or authority – even admitted that he had no data. About anything. Neither about the mutation nor about the number of flights from Great Britain. Embarrassing.

And that was only the promo for the subsequent level of discussion, and the “decisions” that were made. The prime minister asked “to stop all the flights from everywhere in the world, … we have to close the entire world immediately.” For a moment I experienced a kind of satisfaction: Finally the lessons were learned. But I was wrong. In the absence of any data, all that was decided was that everyone returning from Great Britain (and two other countries) would immediately enter forced quarantine in special hotels.

The number of flights from Great Britain came up in the cabinet discussion. Transportation Minister Miri Regev outdid herself when she reported that in all of November only about 4,000 passengers arrived from there. Ignorance for its own sake. After all, she was clearly referring only to direct flights, at a time when any layman knows it’s possible to get from Great Britain to Israel on dozens of connecting flights. And these are the figures on which the cabinet relied when it came to making decisions. Sad and disturbing.

Interior Minister Arye Dery was in any case uninterested in the numbers, but only in the principle (for “importing” yeshiva students, some of them ill): “There’s no way that the Jewish state will say that Israelis aren’t returning home and that aliyah will be closed. We have to do everything except prevent their entry into Israel, … just like during the first wave.”

Truly, exactly the same failure. The prime minister summed up: “Regarding the mutation we made a correct and swift decision. … We have to have another meeting to make decisions and vote.”

And for anyone who didn’t understand, until Monday afternoon, when finally they got it, the cabinet decided in effect not to close the skies or Ben-Gurion International Airport.

And on the margins of the failure (if not on the margins of importance), it’s worth investigating if there’s a connection between not closing the skies and the specific gravity of the workers’ committees connected to the airport and the airline industry in the Likud Central Committee. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Yarkoni is an attorney and an IDF colonel (res.), a former combat pilot, the attorney of the IDF Central Command, and the head of the Civil Aviation Authority.

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