New Lockdown Would Be ‘Huge Mistake,’ Israeli Health Expert Warns
Key to avoiding further restrictions rests on vaccinating remaining one million eligible Israelis
Imposing a fourth nationwide lockdown in Israel to cope with the surge in COVID-19 cases would be a “huge mistake” and would only provide a temporary reprieve, a public health expert has cautioned.
The country is continuing to experience a surge in cases brought about by the highly contagious delta variant.
For the first time since April, 348 people were in serious condition on Sunday morning, according to figures from the Health Ministry. Sixteen people died of the virus over the weekend and 6,315 new cases were recorded over that same period.
While Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Sunday stated that a lockdown would only be used as a “last resort,” Israel’s Channel 12 News last week reported that the Health Ministry would recommend a full lockdown once Israel reaches a total of 600 to 700 seriously ill patients.
Prof. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, told The Media Line that lockdowns are not a viable solution in the long run.
“Most of the at-risk population in Israel is vaccinated with two doses and we know that the vaccine is still highly effective against mortality and severe morbidity, including with the delta [variant],” Levine said. “I think that it would be a huge mistake to have another lockdown.”
Instead, he urged the Israeli government to take on a more sustainable strategy to quell future COVID-19 outbreaks. This would include reinforcing Israel’s health care system so that it can cope with a higher number of serious cases, as well as working together with the public to increase vaccination rates and promote better pandemic behaviors.
“We need to communicate with the public and reflect the risk, and – as the number increases – we should avoid mass gatherings,” he said. “But people must do that on their own, and not by the illusion of government control. It will not work because the people lost trust.”
Although lockdowns might be an effective strategy for other countries, for Israel it would be doomed to failure, Levine argued, adding that his position on the matter is also supported by the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.
“We saw that this strategy is not appropriate for the Israeli condition,” he said.
Other health experts echoed Levine with regard to the importance of educating the public.
“We really, really need to educate and inspire those who are hesitant to understand that vaccination is the most effective means of combating the spread [of the virus] and that it’s very safe,” Prof. Jonathan Gershoni, a virologist and immunologist at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, told The Media Line.
Gershoni has been studying the immune response to a variety of virus infections, AIDS and flu, and coronaviruses in particular for the past 15 years.
While a lockdown would reduce exposure to COVID-19 and reduce the number of cases, he believes the focus should first and foremost be on vaccinating eligible Israelis who have not yet gotten the jab.
More than 5.3 million Israelis out of a total population of 9.3 million are fully vaccinated, with 5.8 million having received at least one dose. A further 420,000 have received a booster shot.
“Currently, our major problem is that we still have over a million people in Israel who can be vaccinated, but for a variety of reasons, are not,” Gershoni explained. “The most effective means would be to try to deal with the million potential vaccinees to get them vaccinated. Not all of them are anti-vaxxers. … I think the vast majority are either vaccine-hesitant or were just recently able to get vaccinated, such as kids between the ages of 12 and 15.”
In addition, Gershoni believes that the Israeli government needs to make the vaccines more easily available for segments of the population that have lesser mobility, such as the elderly.
“If our public health system would do outreach, possibly actually visit these individuals at their homes and be proactive, this might ultimately be an effective means to increase the coverage of vaccination in the elderly,” he said, adding that those over the age of 60 are at the highest risk of contracting life-threatening disease.
Failing these measures, and if the health care system becomes overwhelmed, then imposing a lockdown would be all but inevitable.