Before Israel reboots its economy…
Opinion: Although the national campaign against coronavirus is far from over, our leaders must show the lessons they learned in handling the pandemic so we can be better prepared for what awaits us in a future defined by the outbreak
Amos Yadlin – www.ynetnews.com
One of the reasons the Israel Air Force is such an outstanding organization is its policy of thorough self-examination.
Unlike commissions of inquiry that seek to hold responsible those at fault, introspection focuses on the lessons that we learned from our past mistakes.
The national campaign against coronavirus began six weeks ago, led by the Health Ministry and under the direct guidance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The efforts to rein in the outbreak were based on forecasts of thousands of casualties and the collapse of the healthcare system and on decision-makers’ fear from getting caught in the cross-hairs of a future investigation.
Even if we do hand out medals to Netanyahu and the Health Ministry for the successful containment of the virus, they still must show us what they have learned from the outbreak and prediction models and what awaits the economy in a future defined by coronavirus.
There are seven crucial lessons that we should take from this:
- The Health Ministry director-general and the prime minister cannot make every single decision on such a crisis by themselves, and the government is also not a suitable forum for such decisions.
Israel needs a cabinet dedicated to coronavirus affairs comprised of highly experienced lawmakers. We cannot allow health authorities to be the only ones setting policy, because when the curve finally flattens, the state may flatline with it.
- The healthcare system presented a solid policy for dealing with coronavirus, but failed to execute it. The Health Ministry cannot single-handedly provide extensive testing, rapid epidemiological investigations and control areas with a high number of infections. These assignments have to be delegated to bodies capable of carrying out such massive logistic missions and leave the ministry to its role of oversight.
- Israel must expand and improve its testing capacity before executing a staggered exit plan for the economy, to better monitor and prevent potential outbreaks.
- We must not solely focus on coronavirus patients and abandon all the other issues that bedevil the country.
Although more than 170 coronavirus patients have passed away from the disease since the pandemic’s onset in Israel, over 2,500 Israelis have died of various other reasons during the same time period. Allocating crucial health and infrastructure budgets to fight coronavirus could mean death for others.
- Given the unsatisfying state of the country’s testing capacity, it is difficult to rely on the official number of confirmed cases. The most important variables right now are the number of patients in serious condition and those on ventilators.
The Health Ministry has repeatedly stressed the importance of these mechanized respirators, but in practice, only five percent of Israel’s ventilators are currently in use. This is an unprecedented margin of safety for any crisis. Conditioning the reopening of the economy on a pie-in-the-sky target of just 10 or even 50 new daily diagnoses will ensure that the economy remains under water long after we have run out of oxygen.
- Handling such a crisis requires clarity, transparency and consistency. The hyperbolic statements likening us to Titanic heading into an Italy-like scenario with thousands of casualties only served to sow panic among the public.
The Health Ministry’s u-turn over wearing masks in public and all the broken promises regarding the national testing capacity definitely did not help to build trust between the leadership and the people.
- Lifting a lockdown requires much more precise planning than placing one. Rushing it may cost us a heavy price, both financially and in human life.
As a young pilot during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, I experienced the effect of a conflict on the economy – a decade-long economic stagnation and hyper-inflation tearing apart the fabric of society.
Leaders seem to underestimate the economic and social toll the public will pay when Israel seeks to balance the budget and push for financial growth again.
Education, welfare, housing, and infrastructure will for many years to come all pay a heavy price for our inability to plan ahead and properly exit this crisis.