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Days before UK ministers rejected advice to impose a shortened “circuit breaker” lockdown in late September, Israel made the opposite decision and enforced the unpopular and painful policy to stem the spiralling number of virus infections.
The country of 9 million – less than 15% of the population of Britain – was shut down for a second time, with Israeli officials arguing it was essential to halt infections or risk overloading hospitals.
As the UK and other countries consider implementing shorter lockdowns, Israel presents an example of their benefits and perils. While clearly stalling infections, the second lockdown has further pummelled the economy and infuriated much of the public, some of whom have defied the rules out of frustration and apathy.
Originally scheduled for three weeks, the lockdown has already been extended, dealing a hammer blow to many small businesses.
This week, Israelis have been sharing a video of a Tel Aviv footwear shop owner throwing out boxes of shoes on to the pavement for people to take for free, a final act of desperation after he said the second lockdown had bankrupted him.
“If I’m going to lose everything, at least others should benefit,” Avi Samay, 38, told local media.
Hundreds of other business owners have threatened to start ignoring the lockdown if it continues and the effectiveness of a second national lockdown has been called into question.
Deep rifts have been deepened in Israeli society with communities accusing each other of ignoring the measures. Sections of the country’s minority Jewish ultra-Orthodox community – who account for possibly 40% of new virus cases – have refused to halt mass religious events and clashed with police.
In turn, public ire has also focused on a thousands-strong protest movement that has been calling for Benjamin Netanyahu to resign as prime minister. In response, protest leaders accuse the Israeli leader of corruption and mishandling the pandemic, and allege he has exploited the lockdown to prevent them from gathering.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Britain’s Sage committee of experts urged ministers on 21 September to impose a similar two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown to drive down infections.
The policy, which Sage said would be needed to avoid a “very large epidemic”, may have had a better chance in the UK compared with Israel, where infections were seen to be spiralling out of control. In late September, officials were reporting about 5,000 new cases a day – some of the highest daily infection rates per capita in the world.
While infection rates in Israel have eventually dropped, a “circuit breaker” policy would have been insufficient. Infections were increasing at such a rate that after two weeks of the shutdown the number of daily cases in Israel was almost double the figure at the start of the lockdown.
“I never thought a lockdown was a healthy solution. But we reached a level of morbidity in which we had no choice,” Tal Brosh, the coordinator of the Israeli health ministry’s team for handling pandemics, told public radio on Tuesday.
After four weeks, health officials are reporting a downward trend but infection rates are still not at levels the government is comfortable with. Regardless, with the public unwilling to endure months of shutdown, the government is considering a gradual reopening starting on Sunday.
Brosh said that with thousands of positive tests every day, infection rates could easily surge again if the country reopens too rapidly, wiping away the impact of the short lockdown.
“It’s like trying to stop a huge truck from sliding downhill. We have to see how fast it is going and also its size. It’s easier to stop a small truck than a big truck,” he said. “So even if the situation is improving, if we take any steps now, and then these steps cause a spike in morbidity, we’ll again be back to 8,000 cases a day.”
Source: The Guardian
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