A view of Jerusalem's Old City | Photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun
A general view shows the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun *** Local Caption *** 07.12.17 09.04.18

by Keren Setton

The death toll of COVID-19 in Israel surpassed 100 over the weekend as the infection cases have topped 10,000. However, the experts said the scenario could have been far more serious without the strict policies that Israel adopted earlier than many other countries.

“When we look at the number of sick people, the progress of the disease and the number of fatalities, we are now in a relatively good position,” said Cyrille Cohen, vice dean of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan.

As early as in late January, Israel banned the entry of foreigners from East Asia. Mass events were cancelled in early March and by the middle of last month, schools and kindergartens were closed. Israel’s main international airport also ground to an almost complete standstill.

“Israel took a series of correct decisions, but at a very high price in terms of economy and public health that will be difficult to sustain for very long,” said Hagai Levine, head of the Israel Association of Public Health.

On Sunday, the government approved a tighter quarantine on neighborhoods in Jerusalem where the outbreak of the virus has been greater.

“The more we improve on our surveillance and monitoring abilities, we will be able to allow a greater return to daily life,” Levine, also an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University Braun School of Public Health, told Xinhua.

Currently, thousands of tests are being conducted every day in Israel. But health experts estimate that in order to have a clearer picture, a minimum of 10,000 samples need to be taken each day.

“We need to improve the test ability to make wise and calculated decisions,” Cohen told Xinhua.

“We need to increase the speed to get test results,” Levine said. “This is critical.”

One of Israel’s vulnerabilities that has been exposed in this crisis is the elderly population, especially those in nursing homes. The overwhelming majority of the death cases in the country are people over the age of 70, mainly men.

“People being holed up in their houses leads to stress and anxiety,” said Levine. “Therefore we need to carefully check where people can be allowed more breathing space and more activity.”

In the coming days, the Israeli government is expected to announce its exit strategy: how and when Israel will gradually walk out of lockdown into a new phase in its battle against COVID-19.

“It will not be easy,” Cohen said. “We need to avoid the flooding of the health care system because like many countries, we do not have the option to take care of many critical patients at once.”

“There needs to be much more investment in the public health system, the epidemiological abilities and the laboratories,” said Levine, a public health physician. Enditem

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