Coronavirus Is Still Here but Leadership Isn’t

Haaretz Editorial
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Netanyahu wears a protective mask as he holds a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.
Netanyahu wears a protective mask as he holds a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020.Credit: Reuters
Haaretz Editorial

On June 18 the number of coronavirus-positive Israelis crossed the 20,000 mark. The number of dead was 303 and only 146 people were hospitalized with the disease. At that time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted of a victory over the coronavirus. “Go out, have a good time,” he told Israelis in late May. “we want to make your lives easier, to let you get some air, to return to normal as much as possible, to have a cup of coffee; to have a beer.”

A month later, the figures show a sorry situation. Israel, which through a series of harsh steps stopped the spread of the virus at the start, is now in deep crisis. The number of infected people is two and a half times greater, the number of people hospitalized with COVID 19 has quadrupled; the number of seriously ill is six times greater; the number of dead is up by 32 percent. Some 855,000 Israelis are out of work and the unemployment rate is 21.1 percent. Another closure of the economy is expected to lead to further deterioration, which can’t be covered by 750–3,000 shekels per family – the amount the prime minister and the finance minister are paying people to keep their mouths shut.

A mixture of system-wide confusion and unfounded assumptions have deepened the failure to deal with the pandemic. Claims that there would be no sickness once summer came, that there would be no rise in the number of serious cases, that the disease only strikes older adults or that it’s like the flu, have long proved baseless. This is a global pandemic, which only countries wise enough to present thorough and clear programs to deal with it have managed to reduce the number of cases and minimize damage to their economies.

In Israel, in contrast, the government has once again failed to present an orderly plan to manage the health and economic implications of the crisis. Without scientific proof or persuasive explanations, a decision was made to impose a partial closure on weekends. Without presenting the public with clear data showing the necessity for it, it was decided once again to close restaurants and coffee shops. Under pressure from the restaurateurs the government postposed this step until Tuesday. The pools have been closed, but laser hair removal facilities remain open. Confused parents will have to wait a few more days to understand whether summer camps and classes are closed.

The Netanyahu government has proven that it can’t deal with the coronavirus. No more time must be wasted before appointing someone to take charge of dealing with the virus and its economic ramifications. People won’t agree to another lockdown or view it as essential to reducing the number of cases unless an organized plan emerges that provides assurances of an ultimate return to normal. The plan must include a reopening of the economy in stages, along with scientifically sound steps for dealing with the virus, publication of credible figures about infection, and rapid contact tracing to break the chain of infection.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.