Opinion |

Israel's COVID Rules Aren't Confusing. We Just Don't Like Them

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
Naftali Bennett during a visit to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, last week.
Naftali Bennett during a visit to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

In the lines for COVID tests, on the preschool parents’ WhatsApp groups and the incidental chatter on Zoom, the impression is that there is a broad Israeli consensus: “The guidelines are extremely confusing.” Muttering this sentence these days is akin to muttering something generic about the weather, a surefire way to break an awkward silence and evoke nods of agreement in solidarity from everyone around you.

“Man, the new guidelines are so confusing, aren’t they?” you can say in a tone filled with empathy to the electrician who just showed up without a mask, to the cousin you haven’t seen in a decade, to a colleague on the elevator. And you can up your game by sharing the joke that’s “going around online”: In case of exposure to a confirmed carrier, “one should immediately do eenie-meenie-miney-mo.” See, it’s funny because, gosh, the guidelines are just so darn confusing!

I’m aware that I am about to buck the tsunami of public sentiment here, but I’ve got news for you: The COVID guidelines are not confusing. We just don’t like them, because they shift more and more responsibility onto the individual. And if there’s one thing human beings don’t like, it’s having to make decisions alone. (“Should we order the black one or the white one, babe? Nu, whatever you choose, I don’t care.”) And without a leader (a strong one! Whose party has plenty of Knesset seats!) to tell them exactly what, how and how much to do and spare them all of these dilemmas.

So here is a handy summary of the current guidelines for all those who are too confused “because it’s impossible to keep track anymore” (even though it’s a heck of a lot simpler than trying to keep track of the state of Eyal Golan’s marriage): Israel is slowly and steadily shifting to a policy that some will call “living with the coronavirus” and others will call “every man for himself” – depending on your political attitude regarding the desirable degree of government involvement.

A diner shows her proof of vaccination in order to sit at a restaurant, Jerusalem, last month.

Some of the details are still being updated, such as the type and method of home testing and the optimal number of quarantine days, but the guiding principle remains the same: If you are young, healthy and vaccinated and you’ve been exposed to a confirmed virus carrier or have developed symptoms – take responsibility, do home tests and recover at home. If you are older, at-risk or unvaccinated – we will still keep tabs on you. Decisions about where and in what numbers to gather given the current infection rates, you will make on your own. Supervision of crowded places will be done via regulation (the Green Pass and Purple Badge), not lockdowns. And the most painful, serious subject: The government is also reducing financial compensation for people whose livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic.

Does anyone really think that after two years of lockdowns, unemployment and compensation, it will be possible to go on like this forever? Does anyone really miss the days when police officers chased after citizens on beaches and in parks and gave out fines for walking the dog? Yes, the mixture of state responsibility and individual responsibility is not yet as balanced as it could be. Rather than compel citizens to choose between waiting in huge lines or paying for tests, the tests should be distributed free. Through the HMO clinics, possibly. A better model must also be found for supporting workers and businesses that are collapsing as a direct result of the pandemic. But the general direction is quite understandable and logical – this is precisely the meaning of the slogan “living with the coronavirus.”

Which is what Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz tried to explain to journalist Kalman Liebskind on Sunday morning when Liebskind posed this question to him: “I have tickets to a show tonight – as health minister, do you recommend that I go or not?” To which Horowitz replied: “Every person should make his own decision based on his own judgment. You’re old enough to decide for yourself what you want to do. We’re giving you all the means – vaccine, medicine, treatment, tests.”

This guideline is not confusing. It is very clear. We just don’t want to make the decision ourselves.

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