Over the last year and a half, Israelis have demonstrated great maturity and responsibility in dealing with the coronavirus. Fully 90 percent of people over 50 and 84 percent of people aged 30 to 49 have already been vaccinated. And over the course of three days this week, 262,000 older Israelis received a booster shot, even though its effectiveness hasn’t been proven. These numbers have made Israel a world leader in vaccinations, restricted the spread of the virus and prevented the health care system from collapsing.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett frequently assailed his predecessor’s dire prophecies and threats of another lockdown. But now, he too has adopted a policy of threats. “Chances are we’ll have no choice but a lockdown,” he said. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said a lockdown could be prevented if the public complies with the regulations and gets vaccinated. “Everyone needs to take responsibility and do what’s necessary,” he said. But he didn’t say what demands he was making of himself and his staff.
The Finance Ministry, in contrast, quickly warned against unnecessary panic and another lockdown of the economy. “The damage a lockdown does is extremely severe, both economically and psychologically,” said the ministry’s director general, Ram Belinkov. And indeed, Israel hasn’t yet recovered from the previous lockdowns. In July, the unemployment rate climbed to nine percent, while the number of people put on unpaid leave rose by 15,000. Additional restrictions will make the situation even worse.
The health maintenance organizations and the Health Ministry ought to focus on finding people who haven’t yet been vaccinated. Some have surely refrained out of ignorance or laziness rather than because they believe the conspiracy theories. They could be vaccinated at home, or they could be given economic incentives to get vaccinated. Children over the age of 11 should be vaccinated at summer camps, places of entertainment and schools. Additionally, the existing restrictions should be enforced, but panic should be avoided. The government must also set clear criteria for assessing the severity of the pandemic. At this stage, the number of seriously ill patients isn’t threatening to cause the hospitals to collapse, while many of those who have died of the disease recently hadn’t been vaccinated.
Despite the optimism that accompanied the start of the vaccination campaign, humanity hasn’t yet defeated the coronavirus. At least for the next several months, and possibly for many years to come, we’ll have to live with it. Panic and restrictions that the public can’t tolerate won’t help us get through this time with as few casualties as possible.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.