Israel’s Corona ‘Czar’ Gets Green Light for ‘Traffic Light’ Anti-COVID Plan
Public health experts say assigning municipalities to infection categories is worth a try if another lockdown can be avoided
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet gave the green light on Sunday to Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s “Traffic Light” plan.
With the Knesset’s unanimous approval, the program put forward by the man coordinating the country’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic will see, starting on September 6, municipalities assigned to color groups based on infection and morbidity rates. Red zones will experience the tightest restrictions, followed by orange, then yellow and finally green in the order of diminishing strictures.
“We don’t know if it will be effective or not but it’s worth a try because the alternative is worse. The alternative is complete lockdown, like the one that was conducted in the first wave,” Prof. Oren Tsimhoni, head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, told The Media Line.
Tsimhoni said that Israel cannot continue to see average daily new infections of between 1,500 and 2,000, because of the implications for the health system.
According to Monday’s update from the Health Ministry, 1,102 new cases were confirmed on Sunday, double the number from 40 days ago. As of Monday, two hospitals were over capacity for COVID-19, Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center at 107.27% and Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center at 102.50% coronavirus ward occupancy.
Red zones are already listed on the Health Ministry’s data dashboard. As of Monday, they included the communities of Bnei Brak, Tira, Kafr Qasim, Lakia, Ma’ale Iron, Ein Mahil, Yakir, Fureidis, Buqata and Bu’eine Nujeidat.
According to the new policy, local authorities will receive scores between zero and 10 that will be reviewed every two weeks. The determining factors will include the number of new weekly infections per 100,000 residents. The average data for the previous week will be used to give the score, with municipalities at 7.5 or above being designated red zones. An average score of between 6 and 7.5 is orange, 4.5 to 6 yellow, and a local authority with an average score of below 4.5 will be defined as a green area.
If a municipality is designated a red zone, gatherings will be restricted to 20 people outdoors and capped at 10 indoors. Orange zones are allowed 50 guests in an open space and 25 guests in a closed space; yellow zones 100 outdoors, 50 indoors; and green zones 250 outdoors, 100 indoors.
“I think it’s an excellent idea. The idea is not having Israel as one epidemiological unit,” Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health in Beersheba, told The Media Line, adding that the plan would allow the government to allocate the necessary resources for red zones.
With the state schools opening on Tuesday, there was debate at Sunday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting about whether to allow those in red zones to operate.
At the meeting, Gamzu recommended that red zone schools should wait to open until after the High Holidays and Sukkot (i.e., until at least October 10), a move that ministers opposed. On Sunday evening, Education Minister Yoav Gallant said that red zones would reopen too on Tuesday, contradicting Gamzu’s statement that no decision had been made regarding them.
Tsimhoni and Davidovitch agreed that the decision to allow pupils in physical classrooms depends on age, with both recommending that high school students stay home and study remotely because of data on COVID transmission rates for that demographic.
“It’s not as clear about the younger ages in terms of their role in propagating [the virus]. Also, we know that the younger ages [staying home] requires that parents stay home, so that has very heavy consequences [for the economy],” Tsimhoni said.
The Education Ministry is allowing pupils in grades five to 12 to study in the classroom two days a week, in fixed groups (capsules) of up to 18 students, with the rest of the week spent learning remotely.
We don’t know if it will be effective or not but it’s worth a try because the alternative is worse. The alternative is complete lockdown, like the one that was conducted in the first wave
After the meeting, Gamzu said there will be restrictions on movement as part of “Traffic Light.”
“I think you should to a certain degree limit the movement of people. Red zones should be limited,” Tsimhoni said. “It doesn’t make any sense otherwise. If people move massively from red zones to other zones, it’s meaningless, it’s not going to work.”
Tsimhoni said that Gamzu’s plan is a good one but that success will come down to performance.
“If all parties, including the national and local authorities and the IDF [Home Front] branch, work efficiently, I think yes, it will work,” Tsimhoni said.
The reality, according to Davidovitch, is that the novel coronavirus is going to be with us for the next few months and into winter, so there is no quick solution. “Traffic Light,” he continued, is more about living with the coronavirus in a manageable way by empowering local municipalities.
“When we had a lockdown it was very dramatic and had a very great effect,” Davidovitch said. “But then when we got out [of lockdown], we didn’t have a clear plan, so things backfired. Here now is a plan. It’s a long-term plan. It’s very different than [dealing with] the first wave [of infections].”