Opinion: Despite the continued rise in new cases and hospitalizations, PM finds himself in a far better situation than what even the most optimistic predictions had put him in just several weeks ago
A woman receives her coronavirus vaccine booster shot at a clinic in Jerusalem(Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s dealing with the continued surge in coronavirus infections over the past weeks is very reminiscent of the Allies’ strategy against Nazi Germany’s submarine fleet during World War II.
In his book “Why the Allies Won,” historian Richard Overy says the UK and the U.S.’s strategy consisted of a number of small maneuvers that eventually led to the change of the naval war’s direction in their favor.
Alluding to Overy, Bennett told his ministers that “we are taking an array of different actions, some will work and others will not, but they will lead to a change.”
Looking at the latest Health Ministry data, the premier can say that Israel’s counteroffensive against the virus is starting the bear fruit.
During a cabinet meeting about ten days ago, no expert predicted that on August 21, the number of seriously ill will hover at only 650, that the infection rate will stabilize, the virus’ reproduction rate (R) will continue to decline, along with the rate of hospitalizations among Israelis who had received the third vaccine booster shot.
So what happened? First of all, as we have learned over the past year and a half of living with the pandemic, we need to analyze this data with a dose of modesty.
If tomorrow morning Israel was to see a rapid deterioration of the infection rate, no one would be too surprised considering many people are still getting infected and uncertainty still rules over the government’s decisions.
While the Health Ministry has yet to present any concrete data on the vaccine booster’s efficacy, experts estimate that the third jab and the change in behavior for people over the age of 60, is contributing to a positive change in infection data among this age group.
Either way, Bennett is currently in a much better situation when it comes to coronavirus than was experts had predicted for him at the start of the fourth wave.
Even the most optimistic predictions put the number of infected and seriously ill at impossible rates by the end of August, which would have dealt a death blow to the health system.
But Bennett was unusually determined: give the booster shot time to take effect, increase hospitals’ capacity for coronavirus patients and refrain from any major restrictions until serious cases reach 1,200.
Many would see the actions taken by the government so far as a gamble, which is not true. The ministers relied on people getting their booster shots in high numbers, after explaining to the public that the third jab would not only prevent serious illness but also bring down infections.
The government also received assurances from the health system that they will be able to cope with the high number of COVID patients, they tightened the Green Pass rules and expanded rapid virus testing centers, knowing the restrictions put in place so far would cost the economy much less in the first two weeks of September when the economy will be shut down anyway due to the Jewish High Holidays.
The most critical issue now is testing. Last Thursday, 1,600 rapid test results returned positive. Most of those infected likely would have attended weddings or went with their kids to other social events. Locating these cases and sending them into quarantine prevents infections from rising and gives the economy some breathing room.
However, while the requirement for children under the age of 12 – who are not eligible for the vaccine – to get tested brings down morbidity, it still hurts businesses and leaves parents and business owners frustrated.
Bennett and his associates see the testing apparatus as a national safety net, whether he is right will be determined by the reality on the ground.
Despite all of this, Israel is still deep inside the fourth infection wave, with some 1,000 hospitalizations, 660 serious cases and 290 dead since the start of August.
We still do not know how effective the booster would be in the long run and health experts are still calling for tougher restrictions on public gatherings.
Despite the government’s apparent positive outlook on the pandemic, this is not the end nor the beginning of the end – but the end of the beginning.