Insufficient Preparation

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Some two years after the peak of the first wave, Israel is still unequipped to hold classes on Zoom.
Some two years after the peak of the first wave, Israel is still unequipped to hold classes on Zoom.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

After three months of relative calm, the fifth COVID wave is upon us in Israel, with tens of thousands of verified cases since the beginning of the week. Many are feeling no symptoms or aren’t being tested, so the true number is likely much higher.

It seems that this wave is different from its predecessors. According to findings from Britain, the omicron variant is indeed more contagious, but the percentage of severely ill patients is smaller, as is the number of fatalities, compared to the delta variant. The fact that 70 percent of Israelis are already vaccinated with at least one dose should help us cope with the virus with minimal harm to public health and the economy.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett boasted that Israel was among the first countries to identify the omicron outbreak. Bennett ordered the skies closed and prevented a rapid spread of the virus. Prof. Ran Balicer told Lior Kodner on Haaretz’s “This Week” podcast that “this was the month that bought us child vaccinations, the month that saw more people getting the booster, the month that gave us the opportunity to get the drugs that we now have.”

However, it seems that more could have been done.

While politicians speak of living alongside the virus, some two years after the peak of the first wave, Israel is still unequipped to hold classes on Zoom. The Education Ministry purposely delayed the vaccination drive at schools – to date only 20 percent of 5-11 year-olds have been vaccinated – and only in recent days has there been a rise in the number of people coming to get vaccinated.

The “Green Classroom” undertaking was confusing, never applied in many municipalities and expired this week with nothing to replace it. The quarantine instructions for students exposed to a confirmed COVID carrier were unclear to teachers, principals and parents, which led to the loss of precious classroom hours. The Education Ministry’s command and control center collapsed under a flood of queries.

At the start of the current wave, the Health Ministry had predicted that there would be tens of thousands of new cases per day. Despite this, there was insufficient preparation of testing centers, and public guidelines changed almost daily. Now only populations at risk are eligible for PCR tests, and the rest will have to make do with home antigen tests.

“We are adjusting the steps to the new situation,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said at a press conference on Tuesday. But it is unclear why no advance preparations were made, thus leading to this mess and the public’s loss of confidence in the system. After all, the current wave is behaving precisely the way Horowitz’s own ministry predicted that it would.

One can only hope that in a few weeks, the omicron wave will be behind us, leaving as few casualties as possible. Until then, it is the duty of the Education Ministry to find a true model in times of COVID; the Health Ministry must learn from its mistakes, increase the number of vaccinated Israelis and seriously prepare for the next wave.

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

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